Fidesz cannot order intelligence agencies to spy on liberal NGOs

Hungary’s governing party got a rare slap on the wrist on Friday, after the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) indicated in a statement that the country’s intelligence agencies were not to be used by political players for partisan purposes. The statement comes after Szilárd Németh, a prominent Fidesz MP and vice chair of Parliament’s National Security Committee, suggested that he had asked intelligence agencies to investigate NGOs seen as critical of his party and that he had been given information by these agencies that key people, including groups linked to László Majtényi, the opposition’s candidate for president earlier this week, had received funds from George Soros.

On Friday, Attila Péterfalvi, head of the NAIH made it clear that it is unacceptable to suggest that parties and politicians can use intelligence agencies for their own partisan purposes. In Hungary, it is within the purview of several ministers to direct and oversee different aspects of the work of intelligence agencies and their activities are delineated and restricted by laws and government decrees. Intelligence agencies may only be given instructions to complete certain tasks by going through the appropriate director general. As vice chair of the parliamentary National Security Committee, Mr. Németh may request information and reports from the directors general, but he has no authority to set new assignments or assign tasks. As such, Mr. Péterfalvi indicated an investigation may be needed to determine if the reported use of intelligence agencies against NGOs was legal. NAIH now requires that Mr. Németh submit a written response to their query.

Attila Péterfalvi. Photo: 168 Óra.

The NAIH added that it maybe legitimate to put NGOs under covert surveillance if their activities are believed to be influenced or directed by the agencies of foreign powers. In some cases, these NGOs may not realize that they have been infiltrated by the agents of a foreign service. But NAIH emphasized that the nation’s interests are not identical to one party’s interests. Specifically, the NAIH statement notes: “The nation’s interests cannot be synonymous with the particular interests of individual players on the stage of domestic politics.”

It is rare in Hungary that a branch of the state applies checks and balances on the governing party. NAIH’s stance is one such example. It remains to be seen whether this will halt the government’s vilification of NGOs.

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