Government department to gain powers to eavesdrop on officers, demand the disclosure of computer IP numbers and bank account information and check police case files. Such are the powers of the new team of 50 trusted officers set up by Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland's Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration announced the launch of yet another force equipped by the Law and Justice government with surveillance powers last Friday. The new Office of Internal Oversight is to ensure a “more effective supervision over departments reporting to the Minister”. Minister Mariusz Błaszczak enthuses about the idea: forces must operate in a transparent manner and the Minister [of Internal Affairs and Administration] must have a real, not apparent, control over their operations. The new legislation will ensure a better control over of the forces reporting to the Home Office and will boost their performance.
The Ministry’s communication has not revealed the enormous breadth of the powers the new Office is going to receive for Błaszczak to control 103,000 police officers, 15,600 border guards, 30,500 firefighters and 2,200 Government Protection Bureau (secret service) agents.
There is no mention of the fact that Błaszczak, a trusted aide to Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński, will gain direct access to police case files, including electronic and physical surveillance reports or that the Office will duplicate existing forces, e.g. the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, which has been set up to track private and public sector corruption.
The powers of the new Office are set out in the Bill “on certain powers of the employees of the support office of the minister of home affairs and of the officers and employees of services supervised by the minister and certain other laws” now released for interdepartmental review. If the Bill is expeditiously adopted by the Government and then passed by the Parliament it will enter into force 14 days after it is published in the official Journal of Laws.
Błaszczak does not trust his services
Today, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration controls uniformed services under existing legislation, which is brief and extremely general. The Ministry has complained in the explanatory notes to the Bill that the Minister has so far known as much about the ins and outs of the uniformed services as the uniformed services themselves had cared to report.
The current minister wants to make informed and autonomous assessments based on information from his own sources. So he wants to have his own ‘office’ to track down abuse and corruption in the forces and to audit their performance.
Błaszczak will appoint the Office Director and will be able to remove him or her rather easily if he loses trust in the individual or there is evidence of compromised impartiality. The Minister will define the operational rules for the Office. The Office will be staffed by police and border guard officers (inspectors) to be seconded by their parent units and firefighters and secret service agents. The latter will just be ‘experts’ because these services do not have such powers as police and border guard. All officers will receive a regular bonus on top of their existing salaries.
Control over Operations
The Office of Internal Oversight will oversee investigations and other types of operations, review disciplinary proceedings against officers, investigate their crimes and vet officers to be promoted. This will apply to candidates for the positions of generals, commanders-inchief and their deputies, directors and assistant directors, heads of sections, as well as individuals that are to receive awards.
The Office will assess officers’ ethical conduct and “analyse and evaluate the operational performance of police and border guard forces and identify irregularities, if any”.
The latter mandate may indirectly give Mariusz Błaszczak a fairly wide access to cases investigated by the police and border guard, including telephone and email surveillance reports.
The Ministry has in fact already gained insight into cases investigated by the police. The new legislation goes one step further giving direct access to detailed cases files.
There will always be a profound temptation to make an illegitimate use of this type of information. While it can help track corruption in police ranks and in other forces there is a fair chance it can serve the fight against political opponents of Law and Justice (if their names were to be found in the files) or help hush cases involving the ruling party politicians. By exerting informal pressure on officers, in case you were wondering.
Formally, the new Office will not be a new special force like the Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) or the Internal Security Agency (ABW). The Bill refers to it as a ‘support unit’ for Błaszczak. However, its powers are like those assigned to other major agencies.
This is how a politician loyal to Jaroslaw Kaczyński will sport an armed unit of his own.
Office inspectors will be able check ID documents, use coercive measures and weapons, record surveillance material collected in public places and retrieve files from ‘supervised entities’.
In order to investigate crimes involving law enforcement officers the Office will be able to use all investigative techniques, including electronic and physical surveillance (i.e. eavesdropping on phone conversations and emails). The latter must be pre-approved by the District Court in Warsaw. The list of crimes on the Office’s radar will be corruption (including benefiting from claims of political influence), intimidation of witnesses or accused persons, forcing testimony by police officers, police involvement in armed groups (established to commit fiscal crimes), deleting computer data of state importance and money laundering.
Surveillance log under control
The log of surveillance operations is to be kept by the Office, the District Court and the Prosecutor General. The Minister is to report to Parliament annually.
Minister Błaszczak’s new unit will be authorised to use controlled purchase of items obtained through crime, access insurance contracts and confidential banking information (subject to court warrant). Further, it will be given access to data collected by telecommunications operators and Internet service providers, including broadband data. This will include user information, logging times, use of services and call logs.
The head of the Office is to keep a log of every access to such data. The logbook will be submitted by the Office to the District Court for audit. Similar arrangements exist in legislation applicable to other forces today.
Guess what? There is more. Inspectors will be allowed to use databases containing citizens’ personal information and use false ID to conceal their identity. Forgery and use of such documents will not be considered crime and national and local government agencies are actually expected to co-operate.
False IDs were used by the CBA in the agency’s agent provocateur operation in the Ministry of Agriculture lead by Andrzej Lepper in 2007. The operation was designed to prove that land could be re-zoned for non-agricultural use for a bribe. The operation failed and Mariusz Kamiński, the then head of the CBA, now Secret Services Co-ordinator, was initially sentenced to prison for forging ID documents used in entrapment.
Minister Błaszczak has indemnified his inspectors against any future criminal liability and has even forced other government officials to aid forgery.
His office will be authorised to use the assistance of other people and use paid informers. The Ministry is hoping to encourage whistleblowers in uniformed services.
The Office of Internal Oversight will not launch formal investigations on its own. If it collects evidence of crime it will pass it the prosecution service and other agencies. The Bill stipulates that any unused evidence is to be destroyed.
The Top Office
The Ministry assures that internal investigation units in police and border guard have similar powers already. Officers in such units enjoy all the powers granted to police officers. These units will not be disbanded, however. The Ministry has explained that the Office is expected to focus on high-profile cases which attract much publicity.
The performance of the Office will be reviewed after two years. If the concept is proven successful similar units may be established to audit other forces and departments.