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Article EHCR/Hungary: Mass Surveillance Activities by Police Force Violate the Right to Privacy, Home and Correspondence

(Feb. 9, 2016) On January 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered a judgment in the case of Szabo and Vissy v. Hungary. The ECHR held that broad secret surveillance activities that had been conducted by the Hungarian Anti-Terrorism Task Force, which was established within the police force on the basis of the 2011 anti-terrorism legislation, had violated the rights of the applicants. The grounds for the decision included Hungary’s failure to provide judicial oversight over Task Force actions and other sufficiently precise and effective safeguards. (Case of Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary (Application no. 37138/14) (Jan. 12, 2016), HUDOC.)

The case arose when two Hungarian lawyers challenged before the Constitutional Court of Hungary the country’s 2011 anti-terrorism legislation because it permitted sweeping secret surveillance activities. They alleged that the Anti-Terrorism Task Force engaged in illegal activities such as clandestine house searches and surveillance through secret recording of conversations, opening of letters and parcels, and checking and recording the contents of electronic communications without the consent of the persons affected by such activities. (Id. ¶¶ 6-16.)

Following the Constitutional Court’s dismissal of their case, the lawyers filed a complaint with the ECHR, arguing that the legislation in question violated their right to privacy, home, and correspondence under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights on the grounds that they could potentially be subjected to unjustified and disproportionately intrusive measures. (Id. ¶ 3; Council of Europe, Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Nov. 4, 1950, as amended by Protocols), art. 8, EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, ECHR website.)

The ECHR concluded that there was indeed a violation of article 8 on the following grounds:

  • the extent of surveillance practices was so broad that they “could include virtually anyone”;
  • the authorization order was carried out by the executive branch and without an assessment of strict necessity;
  • the government intercepted masses of data concerning even persons outside the original range of operations; and
  • there was an absence of ex post facto effective judicial supervision of surveillance activities. (Case of Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary, ¶ 89.)

The ECHR did not award just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage suffered by the applicants, because the finding of a violation of the right to privacy, home, and correspondence was in itself sufficient just satisfaction. However, it awarded €4,000 (about US$4,385) for costs and expenses. (Id. ¶ 5.)

The Chamber’s judgment will remain final unless the Hungarian government refers the case to the Grand Chamber (GC) within the required deadline of three months from the time the judgment was issued. (European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, art. 43.) A panel of five judges of the GC will decide whether the GC will consider the case. The GC is composed of 17 judges, including the Court’s President and Vice-Presidents, and the national judge, with other judges drawn by lot. In referral cases, the GC does not include any judges who first reviewed the case. The decision of the GC is final. (The ECHR in 50 Questions (Feb. 2014), ECHR website.)

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Chicago citation style:

Papademetriou, Theresa. EHCR/Hungary:Mass Surveillance Activities by Police Force Violate the Right to Privacy, Home and Correspondence. 2016. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2016-02-09/ehcrhungary-mass-surveillance-activities-by-police-force-violate-the-right-to-privacy-home-and-correspondence/.

APA citation style:

Papademetriou, T. (2016) EHCR/Hungary:Mass Surveillance Activities by Police Force Violate the Right to Privacy, Home and Correspondence. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2016-02-09/ehcrhungary-mass-surveillance-activities-by-police-force-violate-the-right-to-privacy-home-and-correspondence/.

MLA citation style:

Papademetriou, Theresa. EHCR/Hungary:Mass Surveillance Activities by Police Force Violate the Right to Privacy, Home and Correspondence. 2016. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2016-02-09/ehcrhungary-mass-surveillance-activities-by-police-force-violate-the-right-to-privacy-home-and-correspondence/>.