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Hungary: freedom of information restricted by new draft law

11 April, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Ungarn: Neuer Gesetzesentwurf zur Einschränkung der Informationsfreih...

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 information.

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)



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