Handcuffs, body search, service dog

It is not nice to pick endangered flowers, to litter in public spaces, to park in tow-away-zones, to fish without a license or to collect firewood from the forest.  The introduction of handcuffs, body search and service dogs is nonetheless an overreaction on behalf of the government. The number of abuses of power may increase due to the recent changes initiated by government and accepted by the Parliament.

The bill extends the rights to actions among bodies taking part in the maintenance of public order. The main goal of the bill, namely to create a unified regulation that applies to the employees of the bodies contributing to the maintenance of order and law enforcement , is to be appreciated. These bodies include the ranger service, the public space supervision authority, the field ranger service, the forest protection service, municipal ranger service as well as official hunters. Parallel with the unified regulations, however, also the rights of certain organizations to intervene in the private sphere if need be, is also extended. To name a few new spheres of action: use of handcuffs, search of clothing, luggage and vehicles, use of service dogs.

The state is the depositary of legitimate physical violence monopoly as state bodies are entitled to use of force within the bounds of law. Not only a policeman using his truncheon is meant by violence; in a wider sense all means belong here with which the state keeps its citizens under control: identity check, body search, the operation of public space surveillance systems and of course classical means like the use of handcuffs, weapon and use of physical force. The monopolization of violence is the condition for security and a peaceful co-habitance; it excludes self-judgment and is the most important means for the state to exert power. The state takes violence as a means of conflict management out from the hands of its citizens and ensuring co-habitance.  The extension of the limits of the state violence monopoly inevitably leads to the narrowing of private sphere and personal freedom.

The lack of a feeling of security among inhabitants often highlighted by politicians results in the demand of strengthening public space supervision authorities and other bodies contributing to security.  The task of these bodies is to maintain local order and they are entitled to resort to coercive measures, even though to a lesser degree than the police force, fall within the category of physical violence.

The majority of the organizations affected by government’s motion are security bodies operating under the supervision of local governments.  The danger of these coercive measure for political aims is greater and less controllable at the municipal level. As a result, the vulnerable, defenseless persons who do not have basic knowledge of law may easily become victims of the extreme political will. The aim of this harassment is to criminalize the ones living in deep poverty and their gradual social exclusion. This process is observed and experienced in many settlements by workers of the TASZ Roma Program during their regular field work.

Is it really necessary that the public space supervisor serving together with the public transport controller be entitled to body search us if we cannot show up either a validated ticket or an identity card? Or do we again have to do with the expansion of the powerful state providing us security?

It lies within the nature of power that it wants to intrude everywhere – it endeavors to maximize its expansion as far as possible. One of the first bastions of freedom is the private sphere – that is why dictatorships first begin to keep the enemies of state under perpetual surveillance; with the help of informers in the old times and with technical devices nowadays. As far as the fear of crime and the enemies of the state is exaggerated, then apparently the state measures taken to reduce anxiety are also improportionate and mistaken. One can recall the age of Mccarthyism when at the dawn of the Cold War the senator of Wisconsin obsessively attacked people suspected to be communists and subjected them to a political and legal persecution. From simple citizens to members of the Supreme Court everyone was convinced that these measures were inevitable and secure, and fair decisions were made in the interest of the nation. In crisis, one is apt to choose the policy of acquiescence, i.e. we suppose that people making the crucial decisions take all relevant aspects into consideration. However, we tend to forget that the people responsible for public security also exaggerate the existing dangers in order to persuade lawmakers and the public opinion into granting them more power. Politicians easily fall in the trap of this kind of lobby since from the point of view of political survival it is safer to slightly over-perform and sacrifice a bit more from human rights than to risk an attack by their political opponents in connection to a flagrant crime that shocks society. They risk being regarded as irresponsible leaders who did not do their best to ensure security. It is not possible to win votes by putting the public sphere as a slogan but the topic of public order is useful material for populist speeches. It is a common method of power consolidation to draw a picture of an enemy, to demonize social phenomena and to wake public fear. The picture of a state that takes firm actions against deviation is perfectly suitable to divert the attention of the administration from other – for example economic – problems.

It is obvious that “the voting machines” that dim even the servility of the Kádár-era parliamentary sessions will approve of the bill enthusiastically. At the sitting of the committee responsible for human rights and constitutional matters no word will be uttered about the fact that the expansion of the violence monopoly inevitably endangers human rights and promotes further segregation of the vulnerable – in spite of the permanent practice of the Constitutional Court, according to which public security and crime prevention are such social values that should be of less significance in the case of the restrictions of fundamental rights.

 Furthermore, the government did not complete the feasibility study prescribed by the law about legislation so there is no knowing of the possible economic and social effects of the regulation.

This law is not be the Armageddon of the protection of private sphere, ”only” a step towards a future where a day could be called exceptional if one has not been recorded by a surveillance camera, one has not been asked to identify themselves by an officer of the law and one has not been body searched as if they were preparing for a crime. As the former head of the Constitutional Court, László Sólyom has put it, freedom disappears as unnoticed as clean water and air.

Tivadar Hüttl, Program Manager of TASZ Data Protection and Freedom of Information Program

(translation: Ágnes Cseke)

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