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PAC revokes ISA’s refusal to disclose PRISM information

The Provincial Administrative Court in Warsaw has found that the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has the right to obtain information about the existence of a formal agreement between Poland’s Internal Security Agency and the US National Security Agency.

Thus, the HFHR has won one of the lawsuits against the ISA in the context of Edward Snowden’s revelations on PRISM. Snowden’s disclosures of the PRISM programme and other mass surveillance programmes, as well as secret collaboration between European and US security services, show that the means of democratic control over secret services are insufficient. The concerns and the lack of knowledge also gave rise to a number of questions about the operations of the Polish secret services.

Therefore, in October 2013 the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, together with Amnesty International Polska and the Panoptykon Foundation, sent 100 questions to public authorities about the response of Polish authorities to media reports on the operation of the American PRISM programme and their collaboration with the U.S. National Security Agency.
The ISA refused to disclose to the HFHR any information about its agreements with the NSA. The HFHR appealed against this decision at court.

In the oral summary of the ruling, the judge rapporteur has observed that Article 61 of the Constitution guarantees the citizens’ right to obtain information about the actions of public bodies, and the secret services belong to this group. At the same time, the judge has stated that the accessibility of public information is meant to build civic society, and a democratic state ruled by law should endorse such values.

“The Court has indicated that information about the existence of agreements between the Internal Security Agency and the National Security Agency constitutes public information and as such should be made available to the Foundation,” says Dr Adam Bodnar, Deputy President of the HFHR. The Court noted that requesting information about the existence of agreements is different from inquiring about the content of such agreements.

Furthermore, the Court has found that the Internal Security Agency has not provided the Foundation with a sufficient justification for its decision not to disclose information on the means and tools it employs. According to the Court, invoking legislation has not been sufficient and convincing.

“The Court holds the view that a citizen should learn a specific reason for the refusal, based on which they would be able to identify the relationship between the disclosure of particular information and damage to State security”, HFHR lawyer Katarzyna Wiśniewska explains.

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