The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday (12 January) rapped Hungary over its anti-terror surveillance legislation, saying a 2011 law could be used against “virtually anyone”, trampling Hungarians’ right to privacy.
The Strasbourg-based court was ruling on a complaint brought by two activists from a human rights watchdog, who had unsuccessfully challenged the law before Budapest’s constitutional court in 2013.
The law permits a police anti-terror cell to intercept and record mail and other communications from suspects and also undertake clandestine surveillance and searches of property.
The two complainants argued the legislation was a breach of privacy, a complaint upheld by the ECHR.
The court noted that, under the law, anti-terror officials could spy on individuals without having to show they had suspected or proven links to terrorism.
Furthermore, instead of requiring judicial permission to place someone under surveillance, investigators merely need the permission of the justice ministry, leaving the process devoid of “sufficient safeguards to avoid abuse”, the court ruled.
As a result, the Budapest government could “intercept masses of data easily, concerning even persons outside the initial range of operation”, the judges wrote.
The court concluded that the law therefore violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees right to respect for privacy and family life, the home and correspondence.
The ruling is not final. Hungary has three months to request the case be revisited, although the court is not obliged to agree to such a demand.