Proposed Hungarian Law Would Allow Government To Suspend Key Human Rights Whenever There Is A 'Terror Threat Situation'

from the please-see-government-for-definition-of-'terror-threat-situation' dept

Techdirt has reported how many Western governments are playing on fears of vaguely-defined "terror" to push through laws limiting fundamental freedoms that would never otherwise have been discussed, much less approved. Amnesty International is warning that Hungary is aiming to join the club -- and go much, much further down this slippery slope:

A draft proposal to combat terrorism, apparently authored by the Hungarian government and leaked in mid-January, recommends amendments to the Constitution and to several laws to streamline the process to call a state of emergency in the country. If adopted in its current form, the proposal would have profoundly negative consequences for human rights in Hungary, including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and movement, and the rights to privacy and security of person. The current proposal, referred to as the "sixth amendment", devolves near absolute power on the executive in a so-called "terror threat situation," the result of which would be a full frontal assault on human rights and the rule of law.
As Amnesty International's more detailed analysis of the so-called "sixth amendment" to the country's constitution explains, the "emergency measures" available during a very vague "terror threat situation" would give the Hungarian authorities wide-ranging and almost unchallengeable powers (pdf), including:
Blanket permission to introduce undefined "special counter-terrorism measures"

Complete government control over procurement of goods and services, including over supply lines

Restrictions on the movement of foreign nationals, including refusal to enter the territory, despite Hungary's existing obligations under international law

Arbitrary restrictions on movement (including obligatory reporting requirements) for foreign nationals already lawfully present in the territory

Enhanced stop and search powers

Enhanced asset-freezing powers

Powers to seize and limit broadcasters' equipment, and to control the content and messaging of broadcasts

Powers to suspend or limit the use of postal, telecommunication and email services

Strict controls on internet usage and traffic

Limitations or prohibition on contact and communication with foreign nationals and foreign organizations

Prohibition of organized demonstrations and assemblies in public spaces

Curfews in designated areas

Restrictions on travel to and residence in certain areas of the country (including the possibility of forced relocation or evacuation, or restrictions on travel within the country)

Deployment of armed forces in the national territory

Suspension or limitation of the use of key transport and infrastructure
Amnesty notes that the proposed legislation would almost certainly fail the test of necessity and proportionality required to comply with Hungary’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. But something tells me that a government awarding itself near-totalitarian powers probably wouldn't be too worried by a slap on the wrist from a bunch of human rights judges in some distant court.

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Filed Under: human rights, hungary, surveillance, terror, terror threat


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Feb 2016 @ 11:29pm

    Two revoke all laws and the restraint they present, merely utter two magic words:

    'Because terrorism'.

    All the would-be-dictatorships around the world have got to love those two words, because as soon as someone mentions them, any limits as to what they can do, what rights they can strip away are gone.

    Detention without charge, barring assembly, limits on free speech? All acceptable so long as you say the two magic words, because who's going to 'support terrorism by making the public vulnerable'? Use the phantom threat of terrorism to scare the public into complying and there's no right you can't remove, no law you can't ignore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 6:39am

      Re: Two revoke all laws and the restraint they present, merely utter two magic words:

      Especially when they create fake terrorist plots to support such tyranny against their citizens. Like the FBI.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 7:33am

        Re: Re: Two revoke all laws and the restraint they present, merely utter two magic words:

        The founding fathers are quoted as saying that when tyranny comes to this land it will be under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

        Nothing new is under the sun!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2016 @ 5:52am

          Re: Re: Re: Two revoke all laws and the restraint they present, merely utter two magic words:

          Did you know the US government is teaching people that the founding fathers were terrorists. As such people that believe in their ideals might also be potential terrorists.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 5 Feb 2016 @ 11:17pm

      Re: Two revoke all laws and the restraint they present, merely utter two magic words:

      'Because terrorism'.

      On the bright side, it makes it really easy to figure out which horse's ass next needs to be assassinated the most. Whacka-a-mole writ large.

      This thing reminds me of Canada's War Measures Act, which was invoked to handle the FLQ Crisis back when I was a kid; just one of the things I never forgave the father of the current Prime Minister of Canada for doing.

      When, during the course of human events, did "wide-ranging and almost unchallengeable powers" ever make a lick of sense?

      Oh, Hungary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    dogwitch (profile), 4 Feb 2016 @ 11:45pm

    we know how this works....

    nazi anyone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 5 Feb 2016 @ 1:43am

      Re: we know how this works....

      Why bother the nazis in their graves? Just ask the whole U.S. populace getting mass surveillance on their communications, ask the folks kidnapped, interned and tortured in Guantanamo for decades without due process, the thousands of people (including U.S. citizens, again without due process) killed with drone strikes on civilians outside (and inside) of U.S. territory and so on.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 1:52am

        Re: Re: we know how this works....

        Why bother the nazis? Because it's, once again, the same thing all over. Not that the nazi's tactics were new, either. But remembering the past at least helps frame the present for what it really is (or at least some aspects of it).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 2:37am

        Re: Re: we know how this works....

        Yes we know how this works with France, people have been arrested or attacked by the French police under the pretext of the state of emergency that is still in place. During cop21 freedom of manifestation was restricted, and since the state of emergency has been declared over 3000 people have been arrested or had their homes broken into for no other than being ecologist activists in the past : a bio label farm that, owners of which were activists during g8. A blind Arab assigned to residence and raided, doesn't find his cane and has to check in at the police station 3 times a day. Restaurant raided during full service, the kitchen door pushed in with a ram. So much more!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 2:48am

      Re: we know how this works....

      nazi anyone?

      OK - using nazi let's tell the whole story.

      Out there there are lots of Nazis. Of course Nazism is a peaceful ideology and has many great achievements to its credit.

      The peaceful Nazis will of course help us to fight those radical Nazi-ists who are causing terrorism.

      Unfortunately this isn't working too well so all we can think of is to clamp down hard on EVERYONE'S liberty because the alternative is to admit that Nazism is the problem and we don't want to offend those moderate Nazis.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 5:11am

      Re: we know how this works....

      bin Laden was completely right - his one act of terrorism on US soil took ~4,000 lives total.

      The US and similar countries have since torn their democratic ideas and thrown them out with those same lives they have claimed to be protecting.

      Those politicians should be ashamed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 5 Feb 2016 @ 12:17am

    Is Hungary signatory to the Geneva Conventions on Warfare?

    If so, then you could counter Hungary making human rights illegal by proclaiming yourself a rebel -- foreign soldiers have rights under those treaties even when domestic citizens do not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 5 Feb 2016 @ 1:42am

    *drafts a letter*

    Dear Hungarian Leader,

    I understand. Autocracy is tempting. It's nice to be able to go after the enemy without spending time and effort on satisfying procedures and warrants and whatnot.
    Can you imagine playing a 4X game (like Civilization) where you had to file paperwork and argue your case before being allowed a random chance of taking your action? Bleugh.

    But you need to know; this is a very bad idea, for two reasons; your information, and the Hungarian economy.

    First, information. You aren't playing a game where your information is perfect and up-to-date, you know. Your investigators and intelligence agencies will make honest mistakes, false inferences, record erroneous data.
    When you make a decision to freeze someone's assets, restrain their movements, gag their communications, you're going to do that based on information that's, quite honestly, not reliable.
    Innocents far outnumber terrorists. Even if your intelligence network is 99.99% accurate, 9 times out of 10 your actions would still be impacting innocents instead of terrorists. Probabilities are not your friend, here.

    Which brings me to my second point, economy.
    A nation's economy depends on law. People wheel, deal, and make investments reliant on the promise that they are protected by the law, that everyone is equally protected by the law, and that they can seek redress if their rights are violated.
    If you give yourself this permission to ignore their rights, that promise goes away. Without it, people will be hesitant to invest in Hungarian businesses, save up money, or even remain in the country, knowing that at any time their property could be taken or their freedom restricted without any recourse.
    It doesn't matter that these measures are solely intended to fight terrorism; as I noted before, even the best intelligence network is largely blind, and these powers will disproportionately impact innocent people.

    In any case, the next part is like a trail of dominoes; without trust in your government, people (and their money) will not be willing to travel to, remain in, or invest in Hungary.
    Without manpower and share capital, Hungarian businesses will not thrive and produce.
    Without productive business, Hungarian citizens (those who remain) can't make or spend as much money, and your ability to export goods and demand for imported goods both drop.
    Without those, you have less taxes and tariffs.
    Without those, you have worse-off public services; education, medicine, transport, and law enforcement.
    And without that last one, Hungary is easy pickings for terrorists, anti-terrorism powers or not.

    I know, I'm exaggerating. But if you pass this law and give yourself this power, it really is going to come back to bite you. Bite you really hard, if you overuse it.

    Sincerely,
    Daydream.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 5 Feb 2016 @ 11:50pm

      Re: *drafts a letter*

      Seconded.
      First, information. You aren't playing a game where your information is perfect and up-to-date, you know. Your investigators and intelligence agencies will make honest mistakes, false inferences, record erroneous data.
      When you make a decision to freeze someone's assets, restrain their movements, gag their communications, you're going to do that based on information that's, quite honestly, not reliable.
      Innocents far outnumber terrorists. Even if your intelligence network is 99.99% accurate, 9 times out of 10 your actions would still be impacting innocents instead of terrorists. Probabilities are not your friend, here.

      The whole world was plunged into war when three nations decided to pull this crap back in the 1930s & '40s.

      Think about Russia's Cheka/KGB/Gulag Archipelago, Fascist Spain and Italy, the East German Stasi, Pinochet's Chile, Argentina's "Desaperacidos", Pol Pot's Cambodia, ...

      Step back from the brink. No one gains from a blood bath.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 5 Feb 2016 @ 2:21am

    Not a stop on my next European tour.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 5 Feb 2016 @ 5:25am

    Hungarian Gulag

    Proposed Hungarian Law Would Allow Government To Suspend Key Human Rights Whenever There Is A 'Terror Threat Situation'

    The Proposed Hungarian Law is akin to a low grade Hungarian goulash being foisted upon all Hungarian persons under the guise of being Beluga caviar.

    This 'law' is such a wretched legal concoction it may well allow the Hungarian government to arbitrarily turn all of Hungary into a gulag.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, 5 Feb 2016 @ 5:47am

    I hate competition

    It is like every country on the planet is trying to make their place worse than the others. Like a child bully saying Ha ha, now nobody will want to play on the playground.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 5:48am

    In a nutshell they are trying to be more American.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 5 Feb 2016 @ 11:59pm

      Re:

      In a nutshell they are trying to be more American.

      The US didn't invent this. They're just the modern instantiation of a tired, old idea. It's just as easy to learn bad ideas as good ideas.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 6:33am

    I am pretty certain the US already has these provisions in place. So they are not going farther than anyone else they are doing exactly what everyone else already is planning for.

    FEMA has the same powers in a emergency situation.

    Here is a quick list of executive orders if you want to look up what they can "legally" do.

    #10995-siezure of all communications media in the US

    #10997-seizure o fall electric power, fuels etc. Public and private

    #10999-seizure of all transportation, public and private and control over highways, roads waterways etc.

    #11000-siezure of all american people to be into mandatory work forces under federal supervision.

    There are dozens more executive orders like this put in place in case of an "emergency"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MarcAnthony (profile), 5 Feb 2016 @ 8:10am

      Re:

      This. I can’t tell which is more dangerous—a government that wants to publicly and explicitly codify powers that take priority over those of its citizens’ rights into constitutional law, or the government that has planned in open secret to seize that same authority.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 8:47am

      Re:

      Why do I have the disturbing feeling that many governments around the world are in for a rude awakening. The biggest issue is how messy it will be.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      klaus (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 5:49am

      Re:

      It's going to depend on the frequency that these "Terror Threat Situations" occur, and if human rights are restored afterwards in a timely fashion.

      Also, having been an EU member since the early noughties, I'm not that convinced that these laws would be EU legal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 8:20am

    >Hungarian

    You seem to have spelled "British" incorrectly. Don't worry, it's a classic mistake.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PRMan, 5 Feb 2016 @ 9:16am

    Huh?

    Did these people never watch the Star Wars prequels?

    Because George pretty much showed us how this ends...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 6 Feb 2016 @ 12:14am

      Re: Huh?

      Did these people never watch the Star Wars prequels?

      Because George pretty much showed us how this ends...

      Maybe that's the script he's working from. Gene Roddenberry did it (twice) before George dragged it up yet again, and Orwell before him, and Carrol before him, ...

      Maybe we should stop pulling this story up again and again as politicians appear to be far too susceptible to suggestion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2016 @ 3:13pm

    Gotta love terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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