Thursday, November 27, 2008

Polish internal security agency authorises the scanning of address data on letters

In a pilot project at the Posnan postal sorting office, Poland's largest internal security agency ABW has collected the sender and recipient information on letters as well as the relevant graphological details. Founded in 2002, the government agency for internal security deals with Poland's anti-terror policies, counterintelligence, prosecution of industrial and organised crime and anti-corruption measures.

As reported by the Dziennik daily newspaper – Google translation here, a modern scanner system is used for collecting the data and graphological details of senders and recipients in the city of Posnan, for forwarding to the ABW. The security agency intends to use this information for establishing a database that will allow the surveillance of all letter correspondence. The ABW plans to introduce the scanners nationwide at all postal sorting offices in Poland, which would cost around 250 million zloty (about ?65M).

The project was not only criticised for spying on Polish citizens but also for the way the ABW is said to have influenced the public tendering procedure for the scanners. The Polish postal service reportedly received an offer that was 30 per cent better by Japanese vendor Mitsui. However, the ABW preferred the Siemens machines because they are the only ones that can also provide a graphological analysis, and is said to have put pressure on the Polish postal service accordingly. "In a state of emergency there is a global threat. In such events there is a necessity for the censoring of letters. And the postal service needs to be prepared for such an event". Reportedly this is the explanation given by the agency for internal security in response to the allegations that the agency exerted pressure on the Polish postal service.

Critics say that spying on the letters of all Polish citizens is illegal and against the constitution. The Polish Commissioner for Civil Rights, Janusz Kochanowski, and the Polish Data Protection Agency have announced they will investigate the surveillance measure. The Polish Supreme Chamber of Control also plans to scrutinise the ABW's planned collection of information and its role in the postal service's public tendering procedure.