The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held, unanimously, that there was a violation of the right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) due to lack of sufficient safeguards in Hungarian legislation on secret anti-terrorist surveillance.

Two Hungarian nationals, Máté Szabó and Beatrix Vissy, filed a constitutional complaint in June 2012. The applicant’s worked for a non-governmental watchdog organisation, Eötvös Károly Közpolitikai Intézet, which voices criticism of the Government. The complaint outlined the sweeping prerogatives in respect of secret intelligence gathering for national security purposes under section 7/E (3) of Act no. XXXIV of 1994 on the Police breached their right to privacy. The application claimed that the legislation subjected them to unjustified and disproportionately intrusive measures. The Constitutional Court dismissed the majority of the applicants’ complaints in November 2013 resulting in an application being lodged with the ECtHR on 13 May 2014.

The Court held that the legislation violated Article 8 of the ECHR, however there was no violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy). The Court accepted that it was a natural consequence of actions taken by present-day terrorism that governments obtain the use of cutting-edge technologies, including massive monitoring of communications, in anticipating future attacks.

The Court, however, doubted that the legislation provided sufficient safeguards to avoid abuse. In particular, the scope of the measures could include effectively anyone in Hungary, with new technologies enabling the Government to intercept masses of data easily concerning even persons outside the initial range of operation. Additionally, the ordering of such measures was taking place entirely within the realm of the executive and without an assessment of whether interception of communications was strictly necessary and without any effective remedial measures, let alone judicial ones, being in place.

This is an article in the PILA Bulletin on 18 January 2017

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