Nearly a week ago Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, and István Simicskó, minister of defense, announced that the government had decided to adopt an “anti-terrorist action plan.” Since the implementation of such a plan involves changes in some of the cardinal laws and Fidesz-KDNP no longer has two-thirds of the seats in parliament, the government needs some support from the opposition parties. On such occasions the government calls for “five-party conferences.”
This time, unlike in the past, all of the opposition parties represented in parliament– MSZP, LMP, and Jobbik–indicated that they would attend. MSZP demanded receipt of the proposals in a timely fashion because the Fidesz government is notorious for informing the opposition parties of its plans only hours before they are supposed to make decisions.
Although the opposition parties had only one day to consider the “action plan,” all five parties showed up at the meeting at the ministry of the interior. Zsolt Molnár, chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, and Tamás Harangozó, deputy chairman of the committee on the military and police, represented MSZP. András Schiffer attended on behalf of LMP, and Ádám Mirkóczki spoke for Jobbik. In addition to Sándor Pintér, several government officials were present as well as the deputy director of TEK, the anti-terrorist center created in 2010. The legal brain of the government side, Gergely Gulyás, was also there.
Among the topics on the agenda was the “strengthening of TEK,” which according to all accounts needs serious improvement since “body building” takes priority over brains and counter-terrorism skills. A couple of weeks ago the usually well-informed Index learned that foreign secret service organizations are mistrustful of the organization because of its director’s total ignorance of the profession. According to Népszabadság, there might be other reasons for the mistrust: they are afraid that information passed on to the Hungarian authorities might end up in inappropriate, possibly Russian, hands.
In addition of the reorganization of TEK, the government is planning to set up a new anti-terrorist center with a staff of 130 whose job would be to analyze data coming from the various (at least four) national security offices. The government also wants the right to check bank accounts.
One of the most controversial proposals would have given the government the right to sentence anyone who uses an app to ensure the secrecy/privacy of smart phone conversations. From the little we learned from the generally upbeat descriptions of the meeting by opposition politicians, they managed to convince the government that only the manufacturers of such software would be criminally liable.
The government wouldn’t yield on its stricture on mass meetings. In case of a threat of terrorism, no mass meeting of any sort could be held.
Since we don’t know much more about the outcome of the meeting, I will spend the rest of this post dealing with the shocking ignorance of Hungarian government officials when it comes to the world of high tech. I became suspicious months ago when Sándor Pintér, formerly national commissioner of the police, revealed his total ignorance of burner phones. To a journalist’s question about the use of burner phones (throw-away phones in Hungarian) as a way of avoiding detection, Pintér’s answer was: “all cell phones can be thrown away.” Well, that’s true, but an ordinary cell phone can be traced back to the owner of that phone whereas the user of a burner phone remains anonymous. Moreover, who wants to chuck an expensive iPhone when you can buy a burner phone at Best Buy or Walmart for $3.99? Or, if you don’t want a burner phone, you can always get a burner app which allows smartphone users to have temporary, disposable phone numbers. In this case the number, not the phone, is thrown away. This application has been available since August 2012, and the company came out with an Android version in April 2013. Pintér should really start surfing the internet.
Having cleared up the burner app/burner phone issue, let’s move on to the much more serious question of encryption software, the use of which the government initially wanted to make a criminal offense punishable by two years in prison. The opposition party leaders convinced the government that only the manufacturers of such software should be held liable.
Googling “encryption software” brings up such entries as the “ten best encryption software of 2016,” the “five best free encryption software.” The most expensive software in this category costs $37.95 (Folder Lock), but even some of the free ones get good reviews. Folder Lock proudly announces its global success with more than 25 million users in over 80 countries.
There are scores of encryption programs available online. The only way to try to prevent the use of encryption software is to block everyone in Hungary from downloading any of these programs. But if someone wants to outfox the government and isn’t especially computer savvy, he can make a quick trip to one of the neighboring countries and the problem is solved.
Among the encryption software available is one that was developed by a Hungarian company with headquarters in Sweden. Arenim Technologies, which produces CryptTalk, just received the Startup Innovation Prize from the Hungarian Innovation Association. The prize was presented to the developers by László Kövér himself. Yet now the Hungarian government wants to ban it and its competitors from Hungary. Moreover, in a nod to the Apple-FBI dispute, it insists that, if necessary, the companies themselves break the encryption. But even the developers of CryptTalk cannot break the encryption; this would involve developing entirely new software.
Although the company’s headquarters are in Sweden, the actual software development takes place in Hungary. If this piece of legislation is accepted, CryptTalk will pack up and leave. After all, they have a presence in thirty countries. According to the CEO of the company, even the Chinese rules are more forgiving than the proposed Hungarian ones. Only North Korea dared to do what Orbán’s Hungary is proposing.
I do hope that the opposition politicians who represented their parties at the Friday conversation will do some homework and realize that they cannot endorse this latest piece of legislation proposed by the Orbán government. And, by the way, I don’t see too many Hungarian news sites calling attention to this plan and the opposition’s acquiescence to it. The only exceptions were János Széky’s article titled “The good old 70s” in parameter.sk and Népszabadság’s warning that Hungary is following in North Korea’s footsteps. It is time for the opposition to wake up. To outsmart Harangozó and Molnár is not terribly difficult but, as Széky himself notes, one is surprised about András Schiffer. Although he might not be everyone’s favorite, he is certainly a smart lawyer.