Sunday, August 16, 2020

Muzzle Law of Poland: An attack on the Independence of Judiciary

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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Muzzle Law of Poland: An attack on the Independence of Judiciary


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 16, 2020


Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland

Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland | Source: Wojciech Grabowski via Wikimedia

On February 4, 2020 the president of Poland, Andrzej Duda signed a law that prohibits the country’s judiciary to question the appointment of judges by the President and bars them from being involved in political activities. The law also prohibits judges to seek guidance from the EU Court of Justice on appointments by the National Council of Judiciary (NCJ) of Poland.

Supreme court President Malgorzata Gersdorf | Source: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia

Opposition parties condemned the law and Supreme Court president Malgorzata Gersdorf termed it as “Muzzle Law”.

In December 2019, the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament passed the bill that would penalize judges who criticize the judicial reforms of the ruling Law and Justice party. It was sent back by the upper house for further discussion and a vote. However Sejm, using its superior power, enacted the bill, which the president signed on February 4, 2020, making it a law in the country.

The SC of Poland had earlier ruled on December 5, 2019 that the NCJ is not an independent body. Again on January 23, 2020 the SC in a ruling termed the appointment of the judges by the NCJ as illegal stating their apprehension that they may not be free from political influence. The Justice Ministry, quite predictably termed the SC verdict as a “serious violation of the law”.

people rallying on road near buildings
Protests against Poland’s judicial reform | Source: Külli Kittus via Unsplash

The law has drawn criticism from lawmakers as well as legal scholars across Europe and the European Union. On 11th January 2020, hundreds of judges from across Europe marched in Warsaw to protest against the enacting of the controversial law. Thousands of lawyers and residents joined in with many waving Polish and EU flags as they marched from the SC to the parliament. "We have come here to support the Polish judges but we are not politicians. We are here about the rule of law, not about politics." John MacMenamin, an Irish Supreme Court judge, told reporters.

In February 2020, a group of 44 ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members along with senior judges, lawyers and legal scholars from across the world released a statement in which they said, “it is clear that the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and the capacity of Polish judges to uphold the rule of law are now severely compromised. Judges’ freedom of expression, association and assembly are under immediate threat.”

Ever since it came to power in 2015, The Law and Justice Party of Poland, has been working towards dismantling the independence of the judiciary, terming it  judicial reforms. There has been opposition to these actions by the opposition parties, judicial bodies as well as European Union.

EU flags at the European Commission Berlaymont building Brussels, Belgium | Source: Guillaume Périgois via Unsplash

Late in 2017, the European Union had initiated what it called “unprecedented proceedings” against Poland. The move was a response to the worrying reforms in the judiciary that were being enforced by the government. The EU had stated back then that these “systematic threats” could see Poland losing its EU voting rights.

On 29th April, 2020, The EU started a new legal case against the nationalist Polish government in response to the adoption of the “muzzle law”. The EU further added that it was giving Poland two months to address the issues pertaining to the law. “This is a European issue because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently. This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market,” said Vera Jourova, the Czech member of the executive Commission who is responsible for upholding the EU’s democratic values at a news conference.

A few European legal scholars have warned that the developments in Poland are a threat to the entire legal system of the EU. Despite all the criticism and pressure from the EU, the Polish government is yet to respond meaningfully to the growing concerns over the assault on Poland’s judicial system and its potential EU exit.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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