issued by the Registrar of the Court
ECHR 014 (2016)
Hungarian legislation on secret anti-terrorist surveillance
does not have sufficient safeguards against abuse
In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary (application no. 37138/14)
the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence)
of the European Convention on Human Rights, and
no violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention.
The case concerned Hungarian legislation on secret anti-terrorist surveillance introduced in 2011.
The Court accepted that it was a natural consequence of the forms taken by present-day terrorism
that governments resort to cutting-edge technologies, including massive monitoring of
communications, in pre-empting impending incidents.
However, the Court was not convinced that the legislation in question provided sufficient safeguards
to avoid abuse. Notably, the scope of the measures could include virtually anyone in Hungary, with
new technologies enabling the Government to intercept masses of data easily concerning even
persons outside the original range of operation. Furthermore, the ordering of such measures was
taking place entirely within the realm of the executive and without an assessment of whether
interception of communications was strictly necessary and without any effective remedial measures,
let alone judicial ones, being in place.
The applicants, Máté Szabó and Beatrix Vissy, are Hungarian nationals who were born in 1976 and
1986 respectively and live in Budapest. At the relevant time they worked for a non-governmental
watchdog organisation (Eötvös Károly Közpolitikai Intézet) which voices criticism of the Government.
A specific Anti-Terrorism Task Force was established within the police force as of 1 January 2011. Its
competence is defined in section 7/E of Act no. XXXIV of 1994 on the Police, as amended by
Act no. CCVII of 2011. Under this legislation, the task force’s prerogatives in the field of secret
intelligence gathering include secret house search and surveillance with recording, opening of letters
and parcels, as well as checking and recording the contents of electronic or computerised
communications, all this without the consent of the persons concerned.
In June 2012 the applicants filed a constitutional complaint arguing that the sweeping prerogatives
in respect of secret intelligence gathering for national security purposes under section 7/E (3)
breached their right to privacy. The Constitutional Court dismissed the majority of the applicants’
complaints in November 2013. In one aspect the Constitutional Court agreed with the applicants,
namely, it held that the decision of the minister ordering secret intelligence gathering had to be
supported by reasons. However, the Constitutional Court held in essence that the scope of national
security-related tasks was much broader than the scope of the tasks related to the investigation of
1. Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery,
any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges
considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final
judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.
Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution.
Further information about the execution process can be found here: www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/execution.