By APCNews Poznań, 26 April 2012
Headquartered in Poznań, one of Poland’s main industrial and information technology hubs, the Free and Open Source Software Foundation Poland is a story in itself. Recent human rights battles have shown the world that Poland’s civil society is alive and kicking. APCNews contacted Michał “rysiek” Woźniak, chairman of the Free and Open Source Foundation, to discuss human rights, the internet and ACTA.
For the record, Wikipedia defines ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, as a multinational treaty for the purpose of establishing international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement. The agreement aims to establish an international legal framework for targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet.
Opponents say the proposed agreement adversely affects fundamental rights including freedom of expression and privacy. The secret nature of negotiations has excluded civil society groups, developing countries and the general public from the agreement’s negotiation process and it has even been described as “policy laundering” by critics. The signature of the European Union and many of its member states resulted in the resignation of the European Parliament’s appointed chief investigator, rapporteur Kader Arif, as well as widespread protests across Europe.
APCNews: We’ve been following anti-ACTA mobilisations in Poland. Much is happening it seems.
Michał Woźniak: To say that much was happening lately around ACTA in Poland is a huge understatement. During the last two months we went from being informed of a planned ACTA signing, through street protests (spreading far beyond Poland), so-called “attacks” on Polish government websites, the signing of the agreement in itself, followed by a complete and unexpected reversal of the official government stance. Politicians from the ruling party now even call the agreement “passé”.
The last few months saw an important, powerful and extremely interesting outburst of so-called Internets against something perceived to be a danger to the liberties and rights to use this great tool. To be fair, the momentum was reinforced by the fights against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which ended just days before Polish activists heard of the plans by the government to sign ACTA. Although many groups, such as ours or the Panopticon Foundation, Modern Poland and Creative Commons Poland were already working on the issues included in ACTA, the user groups and citizens really created the momentum. We set up an informal coalition and worked hand-in-hand to feed the discussion and to mobilize.
APCNews: Has the anti-ACTA fight prevented surveillance of online communications?
MW: There is currently no legal network filtering and no online censorship in Poland. Even before ACTA, we were successful in preventing other bills. The Polish government wanted to introduce a bill for instance, that would enable network filtering, to counteract online gambling and crack-down on child pornography. Those plans have also been scrapped by the authorities. What we always recognize is that there are no technical fixes to much more complex social problems, such as child pornography. Standard investigative police work is required here and this is precisely what the authorities are currently pursuing.
The anti-ACTA campaign has actually increased awareness about the danger of filtering and censoring. But I guess that the true answer is that Poles are always quick to fight censorship and have very strong feelings about it. This goes back to our history, to the years where under communist rule freedom of expression was not guaranteed.
APCNews: What work does the Free and Open Source Software Foundation Poland normally engage in?
MW: The Foundation works on actions that are targeted at the digital divide. We advocate for equal opportunities and for free access to information technology tools. We also strongly support the idea that regional and national governments, but also businesses and civil society are able to make informed and unrestricted choices of communication solutions. In other words, we encourage users to demand and use open standards and tools, not proprietary ones like Skype, Facebook and the like. We also engage in lobbying work around legislation and governmental projects, promoting the use of free software and open standards; and we are involved in watchdog activities, for instance monitoring public tenders for software, which are often skewed in favour of particular proprietary solutions.
APCNews: Does Poland have an official open source policy?
MW: Open source is part of the larger culture of sharing. All data created and all code written by or for governmental agencies (with minor exceptions) should be available for free or at a nominal, minimal fee. The idea we’re defending is that software and data should be for all to use. Like in other countries, we encounter problems enforcing this. The big players – of which we have a few here in town – are pushing for their closed-source agenda. Groups like ours are pushing the government to adopt more free and open source software. This being said, 80 – 85% of local governments in Poland are using some sort of free software. This means that we’re doing great on raising awareness. But there is no official blanket policy at this point.
The Ministry of administration and ‘digitalisation’ is particularly interested and open to our ideas and tools. They are for open access, open code, etc. We are currently working with them on a simple free software-based solution for citizen consultation and legislation proposal. This is the same ministry that also established the ‘Digital School’ programme, which is a joint initiative with the Ministry of Education and in one of the areas contains provisions for creating school textbooks (in the form of e-books in a plethora of open formats) available on Creative Commons licenses. We were involved in consultations for this programme.
APCNews: More broadly, if we say ‘Internet Rights are Human Rights’, what does that mean to you?
MW: To be frank, it doesn’t say much to me. I believe that human rights are human rights. I’m not in favour of dividing rights among the real world and the digital world. Everything is the real world, even our digital extensions. The internet is just a tool. This is the image that we want to portray, that the internet is just a tool.
I fully understand the pros and cons of advocating for “internet rights.” For instance, I know that APC has an Internet Rights Charter. Now, this in itself communicates the idea that the internet is something special. Something that’s different from all other means of communication. There is no telephone rights charter, from what I gather.
I see two problems with an internet rights charter. It can lead to a multiplication of charters and a segmentation of human rights. This is not desirable and irrelevant. What we do need is a document, but let’s not call it a charter, which calls upon the United Nations Human Rights Charter, to explore in what ways that charter applies to the internet specifically. We already have a charter, let’s use it!
—- – APC’s Internet Rights Charter – http://www.apc.org/en/node/5677 – Free and Open Source Foundation Poland – http://www.fwioo.pl/ – For more information about the anti-ACTA movement in Poland, read Michał Woźniak’s excellent narrative: Subjectively on Anti-ACTA in Poland http://rys.io/en/70