The Orbán government’s latest: jail sentences for encryption software developers

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 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.

April 4, 2016
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April 4, 2016 6:37 pm

Excellent report, Éva, as usual. Disappointing that the opposition parties are so terrified (or superstitious) about appearing to be soft on terror that they don’t denounce Orban’s “homeland security” theatrics as the sham subterfuge they really are.
OT (but is anything in Hungary ever OT?), Maria Sandor, the wonderful, courageous “Black Nurse” activist who recently announced that she was giving up the struggle because she is too alone in the profession she is trying to help, gave an extremely moving testimonial (in Hungarian) on Olga Kalman’s Egyenes Beszéd program: A cri-du-coeur to her colleagues — nurses, doctors, hospital administrators — to come out, wear black, and stand up for their calling, and for the patients they are trying to serve, as the teachers have been doing. Worth watching even if you don’t understand Hungarian.

April 4, 2016 8:25 pm

Maria Sandor also had a very interesting interview where she compared the movement of health care workers, well really the lack of a movement in her opinion, to the movement in education see

Anna Dano the reporter posed the question as to whether the education movement which had adopted a civil disobedience perspective similar her work in the medical field faced the same failure as she had experienced. She said no because the teachers union leaders were in no way a corrupt as those union leaders in the health care sector.

I think there are very big problems with the independence of all union leaders in Hungary from Fidesz domination and that is reflected in the low number of Hungarians who belong to unions. But I thought her comments were interesting.

April 4, 2016 7:09 pm

The first report I read was all encryption software, not just voice. It goes without saying that banning encryption would seriously compromise the internet. It would completely kill e-commerice. Simply using any browser would be a problem because they all have encryption built in. Disk encryption is pretty much built in.. VPN would be finished.. in fact all the operating systems, Windows, Linux and OS X, Android and iOS all have encryption built in so they’d be finished also.

The next generation of processors will come with secure enclaves which will ensure data isolation.. read you only get to see your data on a processor and not data from any other enclave. This is to prevent register/cache snooping in cloud computing environments. Software Guard eXtensions (SGX) is an Intel driven project and the EU is currently offering a lot of grant money to help academic institutions and companies build software to make use of it.

If it is just voice then this government are completely out of touch with how people communicate. No terror group with any sense of tech is going to use voice. Quite a lot of the way we communications doesn’t use traditional voice channels.

April 4, 2016 7:18 pm

I guess this will put a stop to all encryption, as far as online banking or even Hungary online government portal, tax portal goes. They have no idea what they are proposing!

April 4, 2016 10:46 pm

Looks as if IP addresses can’t be erased at will or pc’s willfully interfered with when connecting to the Net they’ll start with Internet side-show items such as banning encryption or focusing on other software hijinks. Kind of a new consequential attack on a medium used by about 6 out of 10 in the population.

The Internet is probably the most powerful medium in communication today on the face of the earth not only for sending and providing information but for shaping public opinion. It’s evident autocracies and budding autocracies know how important it is to control.

If the Internet has been considered the greatest game changer in technological inventions it could look as if the government has been asleep at the wheel in its use. No doubt much more attention will be paid now to Net issues as it gets entangled with security of the country. Cyberspace looks to be another battlefield.

April 5, 2016 3:14 am

Burner phones: I think this is a non-issue.
Terrorists will attack with or without these things. There were plenty of terrorist attacks long before mobile phones even existed, and there will be just as many terrorist attacks if (God forbid) mobile phones are banned.
Yes, terrorists use mobile phones. So what. Everybody does. Terrorists also use cars. Should we ban cars? They might use bicycles. Should we insist bike riders have licenses? Terrorists can also use taxis. Should we make presenting ID to a taxi driver a precondition of taking a cab?
I think an attempt to limit access to sim-card-independent phones, or i.d.-free pay-as-you-go sim cards is ridiculous. It’s an unnecessary form of market control which is in the interest of mobile phone companies, and nobody else.

April 5, 2016 3:31 am
Schiffer isn’t a smart lawyer. He is a decent lawyer with a limited focus on classic human rights. I’m not sure he has any idea about t he Crypto Wars and related issues which require technical expertise besides legal. Moreover he’s been way too cozy with Fidesz. In fact he is an admirer of Fidesz, whom Schiffer sees as a real anti-capitalist (revolutionary) party which dares so stand up to global capital. There is a third issue. It’s a bit like with Tony Blair who got to love the monarchy after all. (Sure, in retrospect this is not a surprise, Tony Blair is now probably right of the Conservatives, but it was a surprise then). These people (Molnár, Harangozó Schiffer etc.) when faced with a good cop, reasonable belügyes (state security officer) they suddenly become like a kezesbárány (a meek lamb). (Molnar was also probably a police informant so he is totally coopted). People have an expectation of the state security administration and when someone is oh-so-reasonable (even friendly, treat them well, leak them some useless but privileged info) they are unable to maintain their principles. Schiffer is no exception. Don’t count on LMP. LMP now supports the dam building… Read more »
April 5, 2016 6:24 am

Who may encrypt and who may not.

The government may hide everything.
The people may hide nothing.

Is Hungary deserted by people who understand the enormity of it?

April 5, 2016 6:47 am

Really unbelievable – don’t know what to say! Maybe the European courts will have something to say on this – in five years …
Now for something totally OT – just had to post this:

April 5, 2016 7:41 am

Re: ‘European courts…. to say something’

The US Dept of Justice probably will on another communication issue with great import.

Just heard of an entrepreneur who has made a gun out of an iPhone. Orban et al might have another thing to think about when it comes to ‘security’.

April 5, 2016 3:25 pm

Even the reason has been classified for 10 years, why is there now a case of crisis!
Think about it if just anybody could learn, then may the terrorists too!
Well, that the terrorists supposed to attack Hungary one of these days. Or some other days. Or else.
All this is very dangerous information, indeed!
But thanks God, our wise leader prevented the information from being spread, and saved us again!

April 5, 2016 6:56 am
Update on education issues: Nepszava today covered the news relating to a possible national strike by teachers represented by the Teachers’ Trade Union (PSZ), there was absolutely no discussion in the article of the position of the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) towards striking ( see—gallone-elkezdte-szervezni-a-pedagogussztrajkot ). Presumably since the common strike committee formulated the 25 demands, which are not totally identical to the 12 demands made by the Civic Platform and the tanitanek movement but largely consistent with them, that are under direct discussions between the government and the unions the PDSZ is on board with the strike call. None the less it was odd that the article contained no comment from the PDSZ ( similarly no statement from PDSZ in the Magyar Nemzet article today). The Nepszava article indicates of the 25 union demands only 5 now remain at a full impasse. Two deal directly with money and compensation, something the tanitanek movement denies is the case. Specifically it has to do with the paying of overtime for teachers for work beyond 22 hours a week. Another demand unfilled at this time is the exact nature of the reform of KLIK, wages and benefits for teachers helpers,… Read more »
April 5, 2016 7:47 am

Not too much OT:
Today in our letter box we found another ad-brochure from the Hun gov describing how wonderful life is in Hungary now …

Maybe it would be worth one’s time to explain what really hides between those wonderful numbers:
550 000 new jobs?
Min wage rose from 73 500 to 111 000?
From 390 638 “migrants” passing into Hungary only 746 were allowed to stay ?

The actors (?) they chose to represent happy Hungary were an unfortunate choice – at least some of them look really overweight, especially one of the children – even though you’re just shown essentially their faces …

April 5, 2016 9:49 am

The statistical office of the EU is considering the inclusion of parts of the debt of the state-owned Eximbank as part of the Hungarian governmental debt. This would increase the debt retroactively.

April 5, 2016 10:20 am

Perhaps a graph on the possible slope of the line in the future regarding ‘off-shore’ havens’ take relating to all that ‘laundered’ gelt from around the world? Real curious where the Panama Papers expose will go. Change or same old same old in the offing.

April 5, 2016 1:39 pm

Very interesting – Who is Strohmann for whom in Fidesz?
The list includes the names of the companies used too.

And also interesting – and devastating!
More than half of Hungarians young people are totally disillusioned with politics – and fans of Jobbik!

Personal experience corroborates this – luckily not in my wife’s family, but we know a young successful woman which is so nationalist, “Greater Hungarian” etc that you might call her a fascist …

April 5, 2016 7:06 pm

Today 1:39 pm

If more than half of the young people in Hungary are indeed Jobbik fans today, then I strongly suspect that this more than likely portends the emergence of a Fidesz-Jobbik coalition government in the next parliamentary cycle, particularly if the Fidesz parliamentary majority were to shrink significantly in the wake of the 2018 general election.

So I suppose the best that can be said (whilst holding one’s nose) is that those barracking for such a shrinkage in the Fidesz support base should be very careful what they wish for, because they might just get their wish fulfilled, albeit not in terms of a leftward shift, but in terms of a radical rightward lurch in the politics of future Hungarian governments, which would most likely end up as a combination of Arrow Cross-style Hungarist National Socialism and 1930s-style Christian Nationalism on steroids.

April 5, 2016 3:06 pm

Pintér’s answer was: “all cell phones can be thrown away.”

And they just did, didn’t they…
Now try to encrypt this:

April 6, 2016 9:12 am