Justice minister announces online freedom of speech bill

Poland's justice minister announced a legal initiative on Thursday aimed at enabling internet users to file complaints against the removal of online posts as well as the creation of a special court for freedom of speech.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the aim of the bill was to give internet users the feeling that their rights are protected and that their posts cannot be arbitrarily removed from online platforms.

The full name of the bill is the law on freedom of expressing one's own views and searching and disseminating information on the internet.

Under its provisions, social media services will not be allowed to remove content or block accounts if the content on them does not break Polish law. In the event of removal or blockage, a complaint can be sent to the platform, which will have 24 hours to consider it. Within 48 hours of the decision, the user will be able to file a petition to the court for the return of access. The court will consider complaints within seven days of receopt and the entire process is to be electronic.

"Often, the victims of ideological censorship tendencies are also representatives of various groups operating in Poland, whose content is removed or blocked, just because they express views and refer to values that are unacceptable from the point of view of communities (...) with an ever stronger influence on the functioning of social media," Ziobro said.

"We realise that it is not an easy topic, we realise that on the internet there should also be a sphere of guarantees for everybody who feels slandered, a sphere of limitation of various content which may carry with it a negative impact on the sphere of other people's freedom," he said. "But we would like to propose such tools that will enable both one side and the other to call for the decision of a body that will be able to adjudicate whether content appearing on such and such a social media account really violates personal rights, whether it can be eliminated, or whether there is censorship."

If a special court rules in favour of the plaintiff and the internet service does not obey the ruling it can subject to a fine of up to PLN 8 million (EUR 1.8 million) imposed by the Office of Electronic Communications.