FOI Proposals in Hungary Would Weaken Law

1 July 2011

A bill before the Hungarian Parliament would replace the independent Data Protection and Freedom of Information Commissioner with a less independent  administrative authority.

“This change will seriously weaken the right to access to information in Hungary,” according to Hutti Tivadar, Head of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Program, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. The legislation which was under consideration in Parliament the week of June 27, also has drawn criticism from Transparency International Hungary.

The somewhat complicated proposal also would effectively remove the current commissioner, in violation of European Union law, Tivadar said.

Tivadar explained:

Currently, the commissioner is elected by the Parliament for five years, the present commissioner is in office since 2009. Consequently, his term would have ended in 2014, four months after the next national elections. According to the proposal, the president of the republic will appoint the head of the authority in November 2011, who starts to function from January 2012. The candidate is named by the prime minister. The term lasts for nine years, and it’s renewable. As the new authority will not be the successor – in legal terms – of the commissioner, this process can be interpreted as the removal of the current commissioner.

Tivadar also objected to the draft law because an administrative agency “does not enjoy the same independent status as the commissioner” and “will be reluctant to enforce FOI rules and confront with other governmental agencies.” He also said, “With an authority loyal to the executive, it will be even harder to fight for the right to know in the universe of classified information.”

In addition, the proposed text “clearly favors the state surveillance and the data usage of the business sector at the expanse of the citizens and their constitutional protection.”

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