Szabo v. Hungary (Hungary Mass Surveillance)
Privacy International intervened in a case before the European Court of Human Rights successfully challenging the unfettered use of surveillance measures as part of anti-terrorism legislation
Case name: Szabó and Vissy v Hungary
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Application no.: 37138/14
Privacy International intervened in a case brought by two Hungarian lawyers before the European Court of Human Rights challenging the compatibility of surveillance measures enacted as part of anti-terrorism legislation with the right to privacy.
Hungary's 2011 anti-terrorism legislation enabled the National Security Services to undertake sweeping secret surveillance activities, including secret recording of conversations, opening of letters and parcels, and checking and recording the contents of electronic communications without the knowledge or consent of the persons affected. Hungarian law made the exercise of surveillance powers solely conditional upon the authorisation of government bodies, which was discretionary.
Privacy International argued that surveillance measures, including mere access to data retained by communications service providers, must be subject to judicial control or dependent upon the issuance of a judicial warrant.
The Court agreed with the claimants and Privacy International, finding that there was a violation of article 8 on the grounds that the surveillance practices were overbroad, no assessments of strict necessity were carried out by the authorising entities and, crucially, there was no judicial supervision of surveillance activities. Whilst the protection of national security was a legitimate aim for the enactment and implementation of surveillance measures, minimum safeguards were required in order to ensure adequate and effective guarantees against abuse. In the absence of such safeguards, surveillance measures were counter-productive, resulting in the perceived threat of unfettered executive power intruding into citizens’ private spheres substituting the terrorist threat.
The Hungarian government unsuccessfully attempted to appeal the ruling, which was made final on 6 June 2016.