June 9th, 2011

Ombudsman denies his office gave agreement on gov’t questionnaires

Hungary’s data protection ombudsman on Wednesday denied that his office had given its blessing, from the data-handling point of view, to government questionnaires sent out to voters earlier this month.

The office of ombudsman Andras Jori told MTI in a statement: “the prime minister’s spokesman yesterday claimed that leaders of the Electronic Public-Service Central Office (KEKKH) had held several meetings with the ombudsman and his colleagues, and during the course of these meetings not once had objections been raised in connection with personal data protection.”

“On the contrary, the KEKKH leader only met Ombudsman Andras Jori on a single occasion, on May 5, before the questionnaires were sent. On the basis of the briefing given by the office’s head, there was no way of making any changes to the questionnaire [which had not been] shown to the ombudsman,” the statement added.

Earlier Jori complained that the questionnaires had not given the opportunity for respondents to reply anonymously and he called for personal details supplied by the respondents to be deleted from the authority’s database.

Peter Szijjarto, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s spokesman, insisted that the office handling the questionnaires had consulted with the ombudsman’s office before the questionnaires were mailed, and the office had not raised any concerns over personal data protection.

More than eight million questionnaires were sent out to all Hungarian citizens above the age of 16, with questions pertaining to pensions, welfare and education. Recipients have been asked to return them by June 15.

Jori called it problematic that the responses, or even the fact that someone had participated, could be classified as information giving a political opinion.

He called on the office handling the questionnaires to only store data without any personal identification, such as name, address, or bar codes.

Szijjarto charged that Jori’s statement “must have been motivated by personal concerns”. He noted that the new constitution provides for a single ombudsman instead of the current four, and “Jori seems to be uncertain about his future career”.

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