Data Protection ombudsman: personal data bill is open to abuse

August 9, 2017

Photo: Flickr/Thomas Hawk

President of the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) Attila Péterfalvi states that in its current form the Ministry of Interior’s new bill that would set up a central storage for visual and audio data collected by various authorities would make personal data open for abuse, reports Index.hu.

According to the bill proposed last week by the Ministry of Interior, personal data of citizens’ would be stored on a central server and made available for crime prevention, law enforcement, national security and counter-terrorism purposes. Personal data could be stored on the central server that would include visual and audio recordings acquired from the police, road management, and passenger transport operators. After 15 days it would automatically be deleted.

President of NAIH Attila Péterfalvi issued a statement in which he concludes that in its current form the bill would create a visual surveillance system that could be used for secret data collection and would be virtually impossible to monitor later on. According to Péterfalvi, a system like this would be open to abuse.

In his statement, Péterfalvi notes that although currently there is no central storage, authorities overseen by the Ministry of Interior already have access to the data that would be stored in the central storage. They only need to contact the authority that owns the footage and justify the data request. Should the National Assembly adopt the bill in its current form, authorities would not need to contact other authorities and would not even have to justify their data requests. Moreover, authorities would not even need to show probable cause to peek into a live feed of the surveilled citizen.

Péterfalvi recommended three modifications to the bill:

  1. Oblige data requesting authorities to document the aim of every data request and also the exact number and type of data with a case number or other identification number
  2. Complement the bill with a passage that declares that the NAIH can investigate the legality of data handling
  3. Tighten restrictions on access to footage recorded on specific sites (for example churches, political rallies, and polling stations)

Although the bill requires the storage provider to permanently delete footage after 15 days unless the data is being used, it does not regulate how long authorities can store data downloaded from the central storage. Based on this authorities could store personal data indefinitely.

The bill is likely to be discussed by the National Assembly’s National Security Committee as early as this month, according to the Socialist (MSZP) chair of the committee Zsolt Molnár.

The bill intentionally seeks to recreate the one-party state omnipotence of the Ministry of Interior and its authorities. According to Index, last year at a background conversation then-police undersecretary László Tasnádi, who was a counterintelligence officer during the state-socialist regime, was heard complaining that back in his time there was a unified criminal record system. Since then the Ministry of Interior also set up a so-called “super secret agency”, the Counter-terrorism Information and Criminal Analyst Center (TIBEK), which gathers information from secret services, analyzes it, and forwards its findings to policy makers, primarily to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.