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Rule of law

Atlatszo is suing the foreign intelligence agency for documents it compiled about ‘Soros-funded NGOs’

Atlatszo is suing the Hungarian foreign intelligence agency (IH) because it refused to share a research paper that it supposedly compiled about the ‘influence attempts of Soros-funded NGOs.’ At our first court date it became obvious that no such study exists but IH also revealed that they do have some information on the topic but that is classified.

George Soros is the Hungarian government’s latest boogeyman. According to the Hungarian governing party’s official communication, as well as government-friendly media outlets, Soros is responsible for practically everything that is not going well in the country.

Last November, on one of his usual Thursday press conferences, chief of staff János Lázár said that he considers Soros’s actions in Hungary dangerous and this is why the government is watching local NGO’s supported by the Open Society Foundation. He also said that the government had a research paper written about how ‘Soros-funded organizations’ tried to influence public life in neighboring countries.

After Lázár’s press conference Atlatszo filed a freedom of information request with Lazar’s office because we wanted to see the research paper that the minister mentioned. They told us to go to the intelligence agency responsible for gathering information abroad, called Information Office (IH, Információs Hivatal). The intelligence agency refused our request, citing national security reasons and the fact that releasing such documents would violate other person’s rights.

At this point, Atlatszo went to court. The first court date was in February this year. Before the proceedings started we had to sign a document stating that we would not publish or talk about any classified information that we learn during the court proceedings.

The Intelligence Office in court said that it actually has not written such research papers that Lázár mentioned in his November press conference. The agency, however, said that they do have ‘data’ on the topic in question, but those are classified until 2045. This latter fact is not classified – this is why we can share it with you.

Hungarian law at this point forced the judge to suspend court proceedings and examine the classification of the data. This means that the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Authority (NAIH, Nemzeti Adatvédelmi és Információszabadság Hatóság) examines why the data were classified and it might force the agency to declassify the information. This process had not been finished yet; our lawsuit against IH is on hold until NAIH makes a decision.

An abuse of the classification rules?

In the meantime, the intelligence agency filed an unclassified document at court. This document proves that the director of IH had reviewed the classification process of the data concerning our court case back in April, during our lawsuit.

And this review revealed that the sections of the Parliament’s National Security Committee’s minutes where the IH director was discussing the ‘influence attempts of the Soros-organizations’ were originally unclassified. But the IH director quickly decided to classify the minutes; they are hidden from the public until 2045.

But the 2009 law that regulates classification of data says that only the organization that produced the data is allowed to initiate the classification process. And in this case, this is the National Security Committee of the Parliament because the document in question is the record of the Committee’s meeting. Also, the procedure to classify a document has to be started right when it is created. According to Hungarian law, it is not possible to start the classification process months after it was created. The Committee record in question was open to the public for months, between its creation and its classification.

Written by Katalin Erdélyi

You can read the original story in Hungarian here.



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