Secret surveillance without judicial approval unlawful, says European Court of Human Rights

January 12, 2016

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The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Hungary’s Counter Terrorism Center (TEK) may not conduct secret surveillance of private citizens without first obtaining judicial approval.  Currently, only the approval of the Minister of Justice is required for TEK to conduct such surveillance.

The decision marks the latest in a series of European court rulings striking down laws adopted by the Fidesz-KDNP-controlled parliament under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.  Hungary’s parliament must now adopt a new law which conforms with EU standards.

The plaintiffs, two Hungarians citizens, were represented by Hungarian legal expert László Majtényi.

According to Majtényi, who was Hungary’s ombudsman for the protection of information between 1995 and 2001, whereas Hungarian police may only conduct secret surveillance of private citizens suspected of a crime with judicial approval, TEK requires neither suspicion of a crime nor judicial approval. All the Counter Terrorism Center needs – according to the Hungarian law challenged in the European Court of Human Rights – is the authorization of the justice minister.

Majtényi argued that the law fails to ensure citizens’ right to privacy.

The court ruled that an independent body or judge in Hungary must decide whether such secret surveillance operations are justified.

Majtényi tells the Budapest Beacon that based on the ruling, Hungary’s parliament must modify the law.  He says that if the government fails to do so, then in theory all Hungarian citizens may sue the government on similar grounds because they are all affected and therefore have standing in court.