Orwell’s Nightmare: Illegal Police Audio Recordings

The video circulating on the internet which depicts the fight in Gyöngyöspata last week between local Romas and paramilitary group members deserves attention not only because of the evident racial issue. After viewing the leaked video from the CCTV, it is clear that the police, besides recording video images, are also recording audio without legal authorization. The HCLU is turning to the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information to investigate the matter.

In Hungary, thousands of CCTV cameras are monitoring public places. Surveillance by cameras is a crime prevention and law enforcement tool which restricts our right to the protection of personal data and our right to privacy, which can only be used if authorized by law. The Police Code only allows for the recording of video data. Recording our conversations would be a drastic invasion of our privacy and of our right to uncontrolled freedom. The video of Gyöngyöspata also raises grave concern due to the excellent quality of the audio recordings compared to the video images. Speech can be heard clearly from a distance, even when people are talking without raising their voices. If we are being monitored by such high quality equipment, then our whole lives can be followed by the police. 
The HCLU believes this practice to be unconstitutional, even if the Parliament would amend the Police Code, but at the moment it is a clearly unlawful practice. Recording audio would be a grave invasion of our privacy and it would especially cause unacceptably extensive  restriction to our right to the protection of personal data. Public space surveillance infringes our right to dispose of our own personal data and it infringes our dignity. Our basic rights are abused even if surveillance is done by authorized personnel and even if data is not relayed to those without authority. Electronic monitoring is capable of recording intimate situations. Privacy should be protected even in public and human dignity and the right to personal data should be guaranteed even on trains, buses or on the street.
The protection of personal data is not an unrestrictable right. However, this Constitutional restriction must be proportionate with the aim to be achieved. It is also important to note, that if the applied restriction is inappropriate and does not serve the desired purpose, it infringes fundamental rights. Crime prevention and law enforcement are legitimate purposes. However, unrestricted audio recording of all citizens harm the principle of necessity and proportionality.  
Another issue of concern is that the Police of Ózd have equipped the CCTV cameras in Gyöngyöspata with public announcement systems, which are used by officers on duty to reproach those not abiding by societal norms. The HCLU believes that this envisions a grim future, where our lives are directed through the PA system.
Another significant matter is that the video - illegally leaked by police and thus made public -    offends the subject’s, in this case Alex’s, personal rights. The security and effectiveness of data retention from CCTV monitoring by police is not clear. It is not known how many times data has been relayed to unauthorized persons. Recordings can only serve the purpose of investigating crimes; those cannot be made public even when informing the community and media of the investigation.
The HCLU is turning to the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information to investigate the matter. At the same time, the HCLU is requesting data from the county police headquarters to find out if and where audio recordings are being made.
Click here to read more about public surveillance in Hungary!


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