Since July 1, 2018, the Hungarian government can wiretap anyone in the country, without suspicion or a judge’s approval. That means MP’s as well as ordinary mortals.
A new amendment of the penal code came into force on July 1, giving Hungarian authorities virtually unlimited access to citizens’ private communication, emails, phone calls, etc. The new law is almost certainly in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (about the Right to respect for private and family life).
Until now, there had to be reasonable suspicion against a citizen (in a criminal case) for a judge to approve wiretapping by authorities. There had been various problems regarding evidence collected by different authorities in unrelated or non-criminal cases to be used for either the establishment or suspicion or bringing new cases, but court practice was correcting many of the law’s faults.
From now on, authorities can wiretap anyone in order to establish suspicion – as well as anyone connected to them, directly, or indirectly. That means virtually everyone in the country, even before we even start discussing what “indirect connection” means.
It is a typical case of blatant legalism. The current limitations only apply to suspects during investigation. But this is not an investigation. It is called the preparation procedure, and it is not technically part of the investigation. And it does not technically treats targets as suspects, so not even political immunity protects from it. All the immunity law says is that politicians cannot be suspects – but the preparation procedure was invented to find out whether they are suspects.
Oh, and you have no right to learn that you had been wiretapped – not even after the event.
Orbán had clearly learned from the fate of his Macedonian colleague (nationalist, autocratic, top gangster who kept everyone in his pocket, blackmailed, or both), who was busted for wiretapping everyone, including politicians, illegally. So instead of refraining from wiretapping, Orbán made it legal.
It can be used against citizens for intimidation, opposition politicians, but also against Party members. Fidesz-members must also to be kept under control. A strongman cannot allow his MPs and other assorted stooges to feel safe and un-watched. And even Orbán’s supposed allies are targets. They are just a tool in state capture, selected by Orbán, they must bot be allowed to feel safe. They also need to be kept in line.
In the age of tens of thousands of pages of laws and regulations, everyone is always breaking some rule. And in a world where having certain opinions makes you a traitor and commands murderous hatred from stoked up citizens, giving the strongman the power of complete surveillance doesn’t only allows him to expose you as enemy of the nation, but to imply it.
Some may think that they are safe because they agree with Orbán. But surveillance is not just about the information it collects. When you know that Orbán is watching everyone, and Orbán claims that X is a traitor, you will assume that he does it with evidence.
No one is watching Orbán. That’s the true safety and privilege.
Surveillance, and the sense that even your thoughts are monitored renders you helpless. And it does so sneakily. First, you will stop saying your thoughts out loud. Then you will stop sharing them with others. You will stop writing them down. Eventually, you will stop having those thoughts. What did freedom do for you after all?
Aligning with the strongman gives you freedom from jail every passing day. Beat that, freedom!
This is not the first time Orbán attempted to give himself this power. In 2011, he pushed through legislation that would have allowed evidence collected during wiretapping suspects to be used against third parties, who were in touch with the suspect. So you wrote a letter to someone who was under surveillance and it could be used against you. That law was passed but the courtroom practice had overwritten it. This is why Orbán’s seventh amendment to his own constitution targets the last shreds of judicial independence as well as broadening the sphere of surveillance with new legal tools.
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