Police, the Faceless Crowd

In the below statement, the HCLU wishes to criticize the Data Protection Ombudsman’s newly issued opinion, that footage of police officers cannot be broadcast by the media without the police officers’ consent.

STATEMENT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Budapest, October 31st, 2007

As a human rights organization, the HCLU was surprised to learn of Attila Péterfalvi, Data Protection and Freedom of Information Ombudsman’s opinion, which he has issued upon the request of the National Police Headquarters. According to the Ombudsman: ’Policemen taking action are not considered public figures, their measures are not considered public actions’. He also states, that footage on police officers taking actions cannot be broadcast without their consent.

The HCLU believes, that this interpretation, besides being erroneous, clearly focuses on the fact, that the term ’public figure’ needs to be clearly defined. In the case of police officers taking measures, their status of being public figures is not of significant importance, but the fact that during their work, they are practicing public authority. Therefore, their personal data as police officers, including images of them, due to public interest, are considered public interest data. As private citizens, police officers posses greater protection from publicity than politicians, but while practicing public authority as police officers, they do not have the same personal data protection rights as private individuals without public authority. The Constitutionl Court, in regulation no.:54/2000 states:

’During their measures, members of the authority act as representatives of the State. Their authority is confirmed by their uniform and badge. However, uniformed, professional and contracted members of the force do not conduct their measures as a faceless crowd, but as representatives entrusted with practicing public authority. Their individual identification is fundamental in possible cases of impeachment.’

The physical appearence of police officers while practicing public authority and legal state enforcement-monopoly is, in our opinion the classic example for the definition of public interest data, of which the Act on Data Protection states:

’Unless otherwise regulated by Law, personal data of persons entrusted with practicing public authority in the name of organizations indicated in paragraph 1. is public interest data, as well as any other person’s personal data who is practicing public authority relating to such tasks. For accessing this type of data, the Act on Accessing Public Data applies.’
It is the HCLU’s opinion, that the transparent and challengeable actions of state enforcement agencies is an important state guarantee, as well as the token of the public’s trust. We consider the operations of a transparent public authority the precondition of a substantive, public, political discussion.

The HCLU believes, that the most significant lesson of the events of last October is, that if the state’s enforcement-monopoly is practiced by unidentifiable, therefore unaccountable persons, the road to unlawful activities will be open.

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