Internet still under threat

The Internet industry is still concerned about the provisions of the Telecommunications Act, which could annihilate Polish free electronic mail accounts, chat rooms and instant messengers. Internet portals want to ensure that the law comes into force quickly, but in a shape that also takes into account the interests of Internet users.

Internet still under threat

Polish portals warn: despite the removal from the law passed by the Sejm of the controversial requirement to present an identity document when registering an e-mail account, some of the regulations of the new law may bring serious difficulties in the provision of Internet services.

The negative consequences of the new law for Polish Internet users and service providers became the subject of a meeting of representatives of and INTERIA.PL with Minister Wojciech Hałka on 22 June. The results of the talks were presented to the Speakers of the Sejm and the Senate and to the Chairman of the Sejm Infrastructure Committee.

June 18, 2004. The Sejm of the Republic of Poland passed the Telecommunications Law. Compared to the original government draft, the deputies deleted provisions on the obligation to determine the data of a telecommunications service user on the basis of an identity document. In the official comments of the Ministry of Infrastructure, it was pointed out that this requirement is a fulfillment of the postulates expressed in the Open Letter of Polish Internet portals from 28 May 2004 and in subsequent letters submitted on 1 June 2004 to the Speaker of the Sejm and to the Chairman of the Sejm Infrastructure Committee. The controversial provisions, if enacted, could in practice contribute to the annihilation of Polish free e-mail accounts.

Unfortunately, the bill still contains provisions that could restrict or even prevent Polish Internet companies from providing many services in their current form. If the bill enters into force in its current form, it will make it much more difficult, and in practice impossible, for Polish businesses to use popular online services, and may harm Polish businesses that operate in the online market, while its provisions will not apply to foreign businesses. Given that the Internet market is global, this will significantly limit the competitiveness of Polish Internet service providers.

The Act does not clearly rule out whether services such as e-mail, chat rooms or instant messaging are telecommunications services. The Ministry of Infrastructure has published on its website an opinion that such services are not telecommunications services, however, due to the lack of appropriate provisions in the law, this is not a legally binding interpretation. EU directives do not provide clear interpretative guidelines either.

As a consequence of possible recognition of these services as telecommunication services under the executive regulations of the Act, Internet users will face significant difficulties in accessing these services (if they are provided by Polish entities), e.g. the necessity to conclude agreements for the aforementioned services only in writing. Polish companies operating on the Internet market will face a number of legal and financial problems related to the necessity of fulfilling obligations which, according to the intention of the legislator, are required of telecommunications companies, but in practice would also affect the sector of Internet companies (e.g. written contracts, registrations with the Public Utilities Commission, fees to the Public Utilities Commission and the universal service fund).

The law still includes the provisions of Article 169, according to which the user must each time agree to the placement of any information on his/her disk, which in particular will make it impossible to store text files (called cookies in English), which are necessary for the functioning of many websites and online services.

EU directives clearly define “cookies” as a legitimate and useful tool. European legislation makes a clear distinction between the installation of software and the storage of data in the user’s terminal equipment. In regulations adopted in other EU countries, e.g. Ireland, with regard to cookies, it is required to inform users about the purpose of their use.

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