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CBA infringed personal interests of a journalist by accessing his phone records

The Circuit Court in Warsaw decided the case brought by the journalist Bogdan Wróblewski against the head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA). The Court ruled in favour of the journalist and found that the CBA had infringed Mr Wróblewski’s right to privacy, secrecy of communication and the reporter’s privilege by acquiring and consulting his phone records. The Court ordered the Bureau to remove all the collected data relating to the journalist and publish an apology in three national dailies. The judgment is not final.

In October 2010 the Gazeta Wyborcza daily run an article titled “Journalists targeted by intelligence services”(Dziennikarze na celowniku służb specjalnych). The article reported that between 2005 and 2007 security agencies and the police collected data on phone calls made by prominent journalists.

Mr Wróblewski argued in his statement of claim that the CBA reviewed the records of calls made to and from his three phone numbers used for both private and professional purposes.

The Court noted that public authorities had clearly interfered with the constitutional rights and freedoms of the claimant. However, any such interference is possible solely when “it is clearly permissible under the law, appropriately justified and proportionate in comparison to the benefits which the authorities expect to obtain”. The Court highlighted that by accessing journalist’s phone records CBA officers had exceeded their powers laid down in the Central Anticorruption Bureau Act.

“At the trial the CBA did not even attempt to challenge the contention that its officers acted outside the law”, said Anna Falkiewicz-Kluj, the Circuit Court Judge in charge of the case, in her oral justification of the judgment. She added: “It looked like a typical, routine surveillance and collecting data on the claimant for an unknown purpose”.

The judgement asserts that the acquisition of telecommunication data by security agencies is a substantial interference with the constitutional rights and freedoms and a decision to apply this measure cannot be made arbitrarily.

“This is a landmark decision because it is the first time where the court has established restrictive limits on the security agencies’ ability to consult phone records to which they have the greatest access”, says Dorota Głowacka, a lawyer with the HFHR. “Since the case of Mr Wróblewski illustrates the wider problem of journalists’ surveillance, this judgment can be of paramount importance for shaping further practices for the use of this measure and may result in a more restrained approach of authorised bodies to its application”, adds Ms Głowacka.

“This is a very important ruling in the context of determining the relationship between a citizen and the state”, said Maciej Ślusarek, pro bono counsel for the claimant, after the verdict had been read out.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights joined in the proceedings pending in this case as a community organisation.

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