Living as a foreigner (in any country), you tend to notice things that stand out in the country you live in because they are different from the norm for you. However, there are times when you just notice things because of how absurd they seem. A couple of news stories recently have made me notice Poland’s privacy laws. Privacy laws exist in most countries and they can vary greatly in strictness. However Poland’s laws seemed like they may not make a lot of sense – to me at least.
My first example came a few weeks ago, while reading an article on corruption in Polish football. I was struck by the way in which the Polish privacy laws seem to be applied. In this specific example, it was reported that the coach of the Lech Poznań football team could be the next high profile person to be investigated with regards to corruption in Polish football. While the corruption cases are not new to me, what was new was the application of the privacy laws to ‘protect’ his identity. According to the report – “Jacek Z (name withheld due to Poland’s privacy laws) is alleged to have been involved in match fixing”. Now, I am not a huge fan of Polish football, but have seen Lech Poznań play a few times in the Polish Ekstraklasa and UEFA Europa League, and have heard the name of the coach mentioned a few times. Thus, even as a foreigner, it is not difficult to circumvent the privacy laws, and know who is involved.
My second example was when I spotted a news story while watching television. When channel-hopping, I stopped on TVN24 for a moment to see what the latest news was. A story appeared regarding the mayor of a small town called Łaskarzew just south of Warsaw. Waldemar L. was filmed driving while saying he did not have a driver’s licence. He tried to deny it, even as TVN24 showed the secret footage of him haven just driven a car. Mayor Waldemar has his named ‘clipped’ to protect his identity. The news article then proceeded to chase him around his town with his face blurred – giving him further ‘safety’, for his privacy of course.
“Face blurred for privacy. Don’t forget – he is mayor of Łaskarzew, 80km south of Warsaw!”
To me, it seems that the privacy laws don’t exactly do much for anybody that may be in a high-profile case or in a well-known position. For example, if Donald T. or Jarosŀaw K. were involved in a court case, the privacy laws would not mean too much for those trying to ‘guess’ their identity. It just seems to me like one big game of Blankety Blank. For those that are not aware, this was a game-show where contestants tried to complete the phrases with missing words, by getting assistance from celebrities to guess the missing items. “Scatts likes to wear ____? Any ideas Wendy…?”
However, to end on a somewhat sobering note, it seems also that the privacy laws have extreme strictness when it comes to maintaining data records. This means that any records which are less than 100 years old and are stored in Poland are not open to the public. From my recollection of such records in the UK and Ireland, data records are made public after 30 years. This usually means that there is a news story once a year reporting on the ‘Top Secret’ files from 30 years ago which were just made public today. In this way we can find out which country Maggie Thatcher was about to invade or which Irish government minister was having an affair with his colleague’s wife. For Poles, they have to wait 100 years for any release of data. This would be particularly difficult for families of victims of the Katyń or Smolensk tragedies. The families affected by the Smolensk crash have to wait 99.5 years for information on the black box recordings to be fully released (from my understanding at least).