In Paul Krugman’s blog at the NYT, his colleague Kim Lane Scheppele has been periodically writing about the recent radical changes in Hungarian government. Today she wrote about the TEK, the new Hungarian Secret Police. The description of their police is everything you would expect from a new secret police, and worth reading in it’s entirety, but here’s a (somewhat long) excerpt:
TEK can engage in secret surveillance without having to give reasons or having to get permission from anyone outside the cabinet. In an amendment to the police law passed in December 2010, TEK was made an official police agency and was given this jurisdiction to spy on anyone. TEK now has the legal power to secretly enter and search homes, engage in secret wiretapping, make audio and video recordings of people without their knowledge, secretly search mail and packages, and surreptitiously confiscate electronic data (for example, the content of computers and email). The searches never have to be disclosed to the person who is the target of the search – or to anyone else for that matter. In fact, as national security information, it may not be disclosed to anyone. There are no legal limits on how long this data can be kept.
[R]equests for secret surveillance are never reviewed by an independent branch of government. The justice minister approves the requests made by a secret police unit operated by the interior minister. Since both are in the same cabinet of the same government, they are both on the same political team.
TEK now has had the legal authority to collect personal data about anyone by making requests to financial companies (like banks and brokerage firms), insurance companies, communications companies (like cell phone and internet service providers) – as well as state agencies. Data held by state agencies include not only criminal and tax records but also educational and medical records – and much more. Once asked, no private company or state agency may refuse to provide data to TEK….[TEK's] data requests no longer [have[ to be tied to criminal investigations…. In fact, they have virtually no limits on what data they can collect and require no permission from anyone.
If an organization (like an internet service provider, a bank or state agency) is asked to turn over personally identifiable information, the organization may not tell anyone about the request. People whose data have been turned over to TEK are deliberately kept in the dark.
These powers are shocking, not just because of their scope, but also because most Hungarians knowledgeable about constitutional law would probably have thought they were illegal. After the changes of 1989, the new Hungarian Constitutional Court was quick to dismantle the old system in which the state could compile in one place huge amounts of personal information about individuals. In its “PIN number” decision of 1991, the Constitutional Court ruled that the state had to get rid of the single “personal identifier number” (PIN) so that personally identifiable data could no longer be linked across state agencies. The Court found that “everyone has the right to decide about the disclosure and use of his/her personal data” and that approval by the person concerned is generally required before personal data can be collected. It was the essence of totalitarianism, the Court found, for personal information about someone to be collected and amassed into a personal profile without the person’s knowledge.
Does this not also violate the EU Data Protection Directive, or does that only apply to private companies rather than the member governments? It seems clear from the other posts about this that the Fidesz government isn’t particularly concerned about that sort of thing, but at what point does the EU just kick them out?