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Hungary: Disputed Data Protection Law Amended

(Apr. 6, 2012) On April 2, 2012, the Members of the Hungarian Parliament, by a large majority, amended the country's Information Freedom Act “to strengthen the independence of the president of the new data protection authority in line with recommendations of the European Commission.” (Parlt Strengthens Independence of Data Protection Authority Chief, MTI DAILY BULLETIN (Apr. 2, 2012).)

The legislators removed a provision from the Act that enabled the President of Hungary, based on a proposal by the Prime Minister, to dismiss the head of the authority if he fails to perform his duties for over three months. The Act now stipulates that the Prime Minister can only dismiss the official in cases of conflict of interest or a failure to declare assets. (Id.) In addition, the time requirement of professional experience for the authority head has been increased from five years to ten and the official is given the authority to address parliamentary committee sessions and present his opinions on bills to be put before Parliament. (Id.)

Since January, Hungary has been under an infringement procedure of the European Union over its laws not only on the data protection agency but also on judges' retirement age and the independence of the central bank. In mid-February, the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution “expressing 'serious concerns' over democracy, the rule of the law and the protection of human rights in Hungary.” (Bénédicte Williams, EU Sets Its Eyes on Rights and Freedoms, THE BUDAPEST TIMES (Apr. 2, 2012); Constance A. Johnson, European Union / Hungary: Criticism of Laws on the Judiciary, Data Protection, and the National Bank, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Jan. 23, 2012).)

The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament has been tasked by the resolution to report on the laws drawn up to implement the new Hungarian Constitution. If the report finds a “clear risk of a serious breach of values,” the European Parliament would have to decide whether to activate article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, under which the ultimate sanction of loss of voting power may be imposed on the member state. (Williams, supra; Consolidated Versions of the Treaty on European Union and of the Treaty Establishing the European Community, OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION C 321 E/1 (Dec. 29, 2006).)

The LIBE recently opened its first session, aimed at monitoring Hungary's progress in complying with the recommendations of the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and the Venice Commission on judicial independence and freedom of religion. Opinions published in mid-March by the latter agency, which is the constitutional watchdog of the Council of Europe, focused on related concerns. (Williams, supra; European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission), Opinion on Act CCVI of 2011 on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and the Legal Status of Churches, Denominations and Religious Communities of Hungary, Opinion 664/2012 (Mar. 19, 2012) & Opinion on Act CLXII of 2011 on the Legal Status and Remuneration of Judges and Act CLXII of 2011 on the Organisation and Administration of Courts of Hungary, Opinion 663/2012 (Mar. 12, 2012).)