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Court of Appeal rules: acquisition of Bogdan Wróblewski’s data was illegal

The Court of Appeal in Warsaw has dismissed the appeal of the defendant, the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA), concerning the protection of personal rights of the claimant, journalist Bogdan Wróblewski (case file number I ACa 1002/12). The Court reaffirmed the earlier ruling by the Regional Court which had decided to maintain the claim. The Court indicated that the acquisition of phone billing and other telecom data of the claimant was illegal and violated, among others, the claimant’s right to privacy.

The ruling is final. The Central Anti-Corruption Bureau will have to publish an apology in press and destroy the illegally acquired telecom data concerning the claimant.

The subject matter of the case referred to the data concerning B. Wróblewski which the Bureau had gathered for a period of six months in the years 2005–2007. The case was made public in October 2010, in the article entitled “Journalists targeted by special services” published in “Gazeta Wyborcza” daily. The article claimed that during the period in question, details of phone calls made by 10 famous journalists were collected by special services and law enforcement agencies.

The Court of Appeal has upheld the earlier ruling by the Regional Court in its entirety. When justifying the ruling, Judge Małgorzata Perdion-Kalicka emphasized that there was no doubt whatsoever that the Office’s activities had constituted an illegal violation of personal rights of the claimant. In particular, she referred to the right to privacy and its inherent right to secrecy of communication. The Judge also stressed that in the light of international jurisdiction, illegal intervention results from merely gathering data on an individual, regardless of the mode of later use of the data.

The court did not agree with the arguments raised by the CBA i.e. that the Bureau had been operating within its authority in accordance with the Act on the CBA (art. 18 item 1). According to the court, in order to avoid liability CBA would have had to prove that, firstly, the acquisition of the billings was part of prosecution of a “crime of corruption” (the statutory area of activity for the CBA), secondly, that the acquisition was indispensable and thirdly, that no other, less aggressive evidence-gathering methods could be used. The court decided that none of the above-mentioned premises were present.

Pro bono attorney for the journalist was Maciej Ślusarek.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights was involved in the case as a non-governmental organisation. During the Regional Court proceedings in Warsaw, HFHR filed a position paper concerning the case. The Foundation’s representatives were dr Adam Bodnar and Dorota Głowacka.

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