1984, Hungarian Edition

The Hungarian parliament recently passed a new national security law that enables the inner circle of the government to spy on people who hold important public offices. Under this law, many government officials must “consent” to being observed in the most intrusive way (phones tapped, homes bugged, email read) for up to two full months each year, except that they won’t know which 60 days they are under surveillance.

Perhaps they will imagine they are under surveillance all of the time. Perhaps that is the point. More than 20 years after Hungary left the world captured in George Orwell’s novel 1984, the surveillance state is back.

Now, if the Fidesz government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán finds something it doesn’t like – and there’s no legal limit to what it may find objectionable – those under surveillance can be fired. The people at the very top of the government are largely exempt from surveillance – but this law hits their deputies, staffers and the whole of the security services, some judges, prosecutors, diplomats, and military officers, as well as a number of “independent” offices that Orbán’s administration is not supposed to control.

The Orwellian aspirations of governments are obviously not confined to Hungary. The disclosure of two giant data collection programs carried out by the US National Security Agency shows that too many governments still aspire to know too much about too many people. I’m already on record as a critic of the American warrantless wiretapping programs, since I filed an amicus brief in Clapper v. Amnesty International, the case before the US Supreme Court this term that attempted to challenge the program. The US Supreme Court refused to grant the plaintiffs standing so the program has so far escaped judicial review. Many excellent legal analysts are writing about law underlying this program so I won’t add to that in this post ...

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