Hungary: freedom of information restricted by new draft law

By EDRi · April 11, 2012

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Deutsch: [Ungarn: Neuer Gesetzesentwurf zur Einschränkung der Informationsfreiheit |]

Hungarian authorities are considering adopting legislation regarding
access to public sector information that watchdogs say is
unconstitutional and would create legal uncertainty.

This comes on the heels of infringement proceedings initiated by the
European Commission (over the independence of the Central Bank and of
the Data Protection Commissioner and the forced retirement of judges) in
January, an investigation by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties
Committee (LIBE) (prompted by concerns about new domestic laws affecting
democracy and rule of law) in February, and a critical report by the
Venice Commission (concerning judiciary independence and freedom of
religion) in March.

The right to access government-held information may now also be
threatened, according to government watchdogs. Last week the Hungarian
Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) and K-Monitor (a national corruption
watchdog), issued a statement about the proposed law that suggested it
was not particularly well drafted.

The proposal is problematic as it would create legal uncertainty by
potentially charging application fees at a “reasonable margin of profit”
and by requiring applicants to comply with a “re-use agreement” the
terms of which are unspecified. These modifications contravene the basic
freedom of information standards based on the principle that furnishing
public information is in the public interest; accordingly, data must be
provided at no cost (or at a reduced rate) and any access restrictions
must be unambiguous.

Another source of potential concern is the conflation of the terms
“public sector information” and “public interest information” which may
weaken the existing norms. The authors also raise an important question
concerning regulatory restrictions, claiming that these provisions
violate constitutionally protected legal safeguards for access to

The goal of the tabled law is to implement the PSI Directive
(Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information) which first laid
down measures to facilitate access to and re-use of government
information. However, some of
the proposed amendments would actually result in non-compliance, after
the launch of the “Open Data Strategy” by the European Commission in
December of 2011 updating the Directive to broaden the possibilities for
the re-use of government data and to more firmly establish the principle
that charging fees for data should not hinder access unless duly justified.

In their appeal to Parliament the government watchdog organizations
are demanding that the draft bill be withdrawn.

For-profit Freedom of Information? (only in Hungarian, 05.04.2012)

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and K-Monitor’s Letter to
Parliament (only in Hungarian, 05.04.2012)

K-Monitor Position Statement:Profit-making through FOI? (05.04.2012)

(Contribution by Christiana Mauro – EDRi observer, Hungary)