Hungary’s Interior Ministry may have wiretapped journalists and NGO groups

There is reason to believe that Hungary’s Ministry of Interior or an affiliated agency may be listening in on the conversations of opposition journalists and people associated with NGOs. Journalists from national opposition publications like HVG and 168 Óra have reported concerns that their phones may have been tapped. Specialists in the field of wiretaps confirmed that this is almost certainly the case. The targeted journalists and civil society activists are all reporting the same phenomenon. When they speak on the phone, their own words are re-played to them through what appears to be a recording, sometimes multiple times.

For instance, Tamás Szele, who had organized protests in Kossuth Square and who is known as an opposition columnist, reported that on numerous occasions when speaking with his wife, he would be carrying on his conversation, but his wife would hear repeated consecutively his last two or three sentences.

As well, a journalist at HVG reported to the paper’s editors that while speaking with an opposition politician on his cell phone, the connection would cut out and during this time his phone would replay the last minute or two of the conversation.

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, a former politician of the Democratic Coalition (DK) and Benedek Jávor, a Member of the European Parliament with the Párbeszéd party, all reported experiencing similar situations. Two years ago, Mr. Jávor was on the phone with civil liberties lawyer Tivadar Hüttl. The phone connection began to cut out and then suddenly began replaying the last few minutes of their conversation. Mr. Hüttl contacted the Ministry of Interior to inquire if they had been monitoring their conversations. The Ministry responded by saying that they had “not engaged in any collection of data that contravenes the law.” In contrast to the Ministry of Defence, which flatly denied that these individuals were targets of investigation or wiretapping, the Ministry of Interior offered no such denial.

Mr. Jávor is best known for focusing on Hungary’s partnership with Russia to expand the nuclear plant in Paks, and the MEP is a vociferous critic of these plans. A national security source told HVG that Mr. Jávor is indeed “a targeted individual” and that it is not only Hungarian operatives who are monitoring him.

A screen capture from the film: Az ügynök élete (Life of an Agent).

A key question is why targets of wiretapping would be allowed to detect such tell-tale signs that their phones have been tapped? One explanation is that agents want the targets to know or suspect that such an investigation is on-going. A probably more likely scenario is that there is a software glitch in the system. Another possibility is that government agencies have outsourced these tasks to private security companies, which also means that these activities may be happening “informally” and without proper documentation or formal approval.

When the Ministry of Interior was contacted this week by HVG, the Ministry noted that it, as well as the Special Service for National Security (Nemzetbiztonsági Szakszolgálat) and the Constitution Protection Office (Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal) would “in no way comment on this hearsay or on specific cases.”

HVG reminded its readers that in 2016, László Majtényi–president of a research institute funded by George Soros called the Eötvös Károly Közpolitikai Intézet–found an unusual physical device in his office that could be used to wiretap telephones. When Interior Minister Sándor Pintér was asked about this situation, the minister replied that “he was not aware” that agencies under his purview would have been monitoring the Institute.

Depending on the nature and purpose of the wiretapping, Hungarian law requires that this must be either approved by a judge or by the Minister of Justice. With such approval, cell phone providers in Hungary are required to cooperate with the relevant agencies. But if such work is “outsourced” to any number of private security firms in Hungary, one wonders about whether due process is followed.

 

8 Comments

  1. I experienced all sorts of strange things while talking on the phone myself. I don’t think that it is the result of my phone being tapped. At least not any more than anybody else’s phone. In the aftermath of the NSA leaks, I think we can drop any pretense in this regard. It is the state of Western freedom & democracy today! And to think that Western countries were pointing the fingers East in regards to people having their phone conversations tapped just three decades ago. Looking back and comparing with what we learned from Edward Snowden, I’d have to say those guys back then were just amateurs comparatively speaking.

  2. If there is no concrete proof of wiretapping, articles are too premature on the subject. Why does this paper always want to paint Hungarian government in a bad light?

    • Why paint the Orban regime in a bad light ?

      The Q. is rather why there’s such a primitive, utterly corrupt and immoral fascist regime here.

  3. Stranded in Sopron says:

    NGOs would be extremely naive to believe that the regime’s secret service is not monitoring their every utterance and I know for a fact that more than one now no longer have their important meetings “in office”.

    Having said that in answer to:
    “A key question is why targets of wiretapping would be allowed to detect such tell-tale signs that their phones have been tapped?”

    One should never underestimate the complete and utter incompetence of the Orbanist state apparatus. Since 2010 idiots (loyal to Orban to be sure but still idiots) have taken over every level of control in Hungary. If there is ever a genuine terrorist threat to Hungary, I would be very doubtful of these turkeys discovering it…too busy looking for Soros “agents” under every bed.

    • Christopher Adam says:

      To bolster your point: I know that many Socialist MPs and party members were distinctly uncomfortable about holding party meetings at the so-called “White House” (the office building set aside for MPs near parliament) after MSZP sold its national headquarters in Budapest. It was widely feared that holding meetings here exposed the party to wiretapped rooms.

  4. Once there are enough signs to identify the class of the political animal, than one should expect to find all the attributes of the class.

    One should expect a fascist regime /a dictatorship to use/abuse all tools of subversion and suppression and any dirty tricks agains its opponents and opposition, legally or illegally, azt jò napot.

  5. There is NO wire tapping, NO lissenning in on any calls.
    By law, the phone company is required to record the calls and the government does store them. In case they need it, can be pulled up. Like in the case of terror suspects, and can use it as evidence at trials.

  6. The US Supreme Court just handed down an important decision on that very related subject.
    The so called “Fourth Amendment, that permit obtaining evidence to support a criminal allegation, only by Court Order.
    A person was located, and proven to be at the location of a crime comitted. There was NO court order to locate him by his cell-phone, as it registers every location.
    The court decided that since he used his phone, he volunterily gave his location to the telephone company. That legally provided the info to the lawenforcement. Thus, he gave up his protected right under the Constitution.
    Yes, today’s technology play an important roll, w/o any one considering that. And it is being utilized just about worldwide.
    If the authorities need and want, they can have your most private telephone or e-mail conversation transcribed. Its all on the record and kept in storage.
    Go back to the smoke-signals.

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