Hungary: Act on classified information reloaded

By EDRi · September 13, 2006

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

At the end of July 2006, the Office of the Hungarian Prime Minister released
their legislative plans for the Autumn comprising the Act on classified

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) have filed two requests inquiring
about the details of the draft, but the PM’s Office refused to disclose
anything about it.

Last time the Hungarian Government submitted the draft of a new Act on
classified information (ACI) to the Parliament was in early December 2005
when the Parliament discussed it in an expedited procedure and completed its
first reading within two weeks. Debate continued throughout January and the
only obstacle was the government’s having not attached the Penal Code’s
amendments regarding the criminal sanctions of illegally disclosing
classified information.

This was the situation when three NGOs (the Hungarian Civil
Liberties Union, Protect the Future and the Press Freedom Centre)
intervened, calling a press conference to demand that the Government revoke
the draft and prepare a completely new document. The protest was successful.
In January 2006 the Government postponed further parliamentary debate on the
draft legislation and at the beginning of February 2006 the Parliament
finished its winter session without adopting the ACI.

Before submitting the draft to the Parliament, only the ministries and
“professional bodies” (i.e. the secret services) were consulted, there was
no public debate and the media and NGOs working in the areas of freedom of
speech and information were not informed. This resulted in a more
restrictive text than the one already in force. If approved, the draft law
would have enabled the government to deprive citizens from open debate on
public issues and would also have prevented them from expressing alternative
positions that differed from the government’s view.

HCLU’s major concern was the threat to journalists. According to the Penal
Code, journalists who disclose secret documents are subject to imprisonment,
even in cases when the journalist was not proven to have known that the
documents were classified.

According to the draft of the ACI, these sections of the Penal Code would
have stayed in force for an undetermined time. HCLU considers as
unacceptable that during the drafting of the new ACI the relevant sections
of the Penal Code were neither reviewed nor amended.

Secondly, the right of individuals to have access to the retained data
is a constitutional right in Hungary. In theory, all citizens can – under
certain conditions – acquire this information if they have been the subject
of a secret service investigation. According to the draft law the disclosure
of such information would depend on the discretionary decision of the state,
instead of being its obligation.

Thirdly, the draft law would reduce the time limit on releasing secret
information to 80 years from the present 90 years which is still excessive
in HCLU opinion. Furthermore, in cases involving state secrets, the draft
law would extend the time limit to 60 years from the present 20 years while
the draft law’s definition of “secret” does not meet the standards of a
democratic state.

If approved, it would have undermined the freedom of information safeguards
embedded in the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Act. The
categories of the draft law’s data specification were extensive. For
example, there were sections which classified statistical data on public
affairs and on public funds as secret. Additionally, the draft law would
have enabled the government to classify all international affairs-related
data, without regard to the relevant international conventions.

If the present government does not live up to the commitments made in its
manifesto, where it states that the act on state secrets has to be
adjusted to the act on publicity of public interest data, and fails to
engage in public debate on the new ACI, the proponents of freedom of
information will have a harder job than before the elections.

Statewatch- HCLU – Threat to journalists and freedom of information from
draft secrecy law (08.2006)

Manifesto – New Hungary − Freedom and Solidarity

(Contribution by Adam Foldes – HCLU, Hungary –