by Joanna Kulesza*
Poland is well on its way catching up with the international Internet governance dialogue. While rather a follower than a leader in the recent discussions on Snowden revelations or the IANA transition, the questions of privacy, cybersecurity and the evolving domain names market are finally being discussed in Warsaw.
With almost 70% of Poles online, one might imagine that they have a relatively good perspective and a strong voice in the debates on the operation and management of the network. Surprisingly however, Internet governance has rarely been on the agenda of ministerial meetings, academic conferences or civil society debates in Poland. Poland has remained a relatively passive observer of the WSIS process, the NIS Directive drafting or the transatlantic privacy debate. None of the shifting political powers and changing governments have been successful in installing a national IGF or a similar platform for business and civil society to exchange ideas on “all things Internet”. While a leader in the 2012 European protests against ACTA, Poland was perceived active yet relatively misinformed: the ACTA provisions that the young Internet users took to the streets to protest against, allegedly curtailing their “right to download from the Internet”, have long been present in Polish copyright or trademark law, as in all WTO countries following the ratification of the TRIPS agreement. On the bright side however, the ACTA protests did spark a short series of debates on Internet use and regulation in Poland, with the Ministry of Administration and Digitalization organizing round table discussions on e.g. copyright, fair use and privacy. Yet ones hoping for those meetings to be the first step towards a national IG debate were left unsettled. The two annual conferences on Internet governance, co-organized by the Ministry, have so far failed to gather the expected feedback, while numerous policies and agendas stimulated little to no debate with various governmental agencies producing a series of cybersecurity documents to never be enforced and eventually disregarded with the most recent cybersecurity strategy “outline”, introduced earlier this year. On the policy side Poland is still struggling with a functional design of competences sharing among central authorities, with numerous ministries and agencies so entangled in the power struggle that little practical result can be expected.
As nature abhors a vacuum, the IG void is being filled by non-governmental organization. Following international trends, current Polish debate focuses on cybersecurity, with the first European Cybersecurity Forum launched last year in Cracow. Gathering experts from around the world and across all fields, CyberSec has put Poland on the map of European cybersecurity dialogue. A national version of the forum, focused on local application of CyberSec recommendations is to take place in Warsaw next week (CyberSec PL). While offering a relatively narrow (cybersecurity) focus, it is likely to become the first platform for exchanging comments and ideas about Internet-related policy in Poland. The timing could not be better, not only because of the upcoming Warsaw NATO summit. It offers a good chance for the local community to learn from the experiences of others. With Polish democracy being currently perceived as under threat, with the new government having introduced comprehensive surveillance laws, allowing for police access to all “Internet data” without court supervision and declared al state funded media “national”, ensuring they present the new government and its “good change” policy in a positive light, Poland is experiencing a local version of the long going struggle to find equilibrium between state interests and individual freedoms. With the Constitutional Tribunal obstructed after the last elections, any formal supervision of the legality of new laws is practically disabled. It is down to the civil society to make its voice heard on all crucial human rights issues, including their online applicability.
And so Polish NGOs carry on the country’s agenda within e.g. the Visegrad Group and Eastern Partnership, just to mention the Pulaski Foundation involved in a cybersecurity project targeted at the energy sector. A timely endeavor that is reflecting the recent cyberattacks onto Ukrainian energy, an element of the Crimean conflict.
Last but not least, the ICANN “Internet Academy” pilot project on Internet governance raises high hopes. Launching this month, it is designated as a meeting point and a discussion platform for all Internet-related issues. Already having provoked much interest on the international arena, it’s first edition is directed at the Polish audience, with a series of open lectures from various Polish Internet professionals covering the full range of Internet governance questions, from broad notions of human rights, through cybersecurity, domain names all the way to privacy.
Poland has long had the reputation of a democracy leader, with most foreigners, regardless the geographical distance, correctly place Lech Walesa and his story at the whereabouts of Gdansk or Warsaw. At a time when Polish political choices have resulted in controversial laws, recognized by e.g. the Venice Commission as threatening democracy, it is once again time for the civil society to stand up to Poland’s reputation as a democracy defender. Hopefully the raising debate on democratic values in Poland will add to the global discussion on democracy standards online.
*Joanna Kulesza is assistant professor of international law and Internet governance at the Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Lodz, Poland