Hungarian government used personal data of people who applied for vaccine to spread ruling party campaign

Human Rights Watch discovered that the Hungarian government used information gathered from Hungaians who applied for the Covid-19 vaccine or requested tax benefits to distribute the ruling Fidesz party’s campaign narratives.

People who registered for vaccine, then received political party advertisement

Human Rights Watch has alleged in a new study that the Hungarian government’s unlawful use of personal data during the 2022 parliamentary election campaign threatened privacy and further unbalanced the fair competition in favor of the ruling party, Fidesz.

Trapped in a Web: The Exploitation of Personal Data in Hungary’s 2022 Elections,” 85-page research, explores data-driven campaigns in Hungary’s April 2022 elections, which secured Viktor Orban a fourth consecutive Prime Minister term.

Human Rights Watch discovered that the Hungarian government used the information it acquired from individuals requesting services to target them and propagate Fidesz’s political topics. The government’s takeover of important institutions and the blurry boundaries between its resources and those of the ruling party, including data, resulted in legislation being selectively enforced in Orban’s party favor.

Using people’s data obtained in public services for political ads is an abuse of power – HRW

According to Deborah Brown, a senior technology researcher at Human Rights Watch, “using people’s data obtained when they used public services to overwhelm them with political campaign messages is a betrayal of trust and an abuse of power.” “The Hungarian government should stop using people’s personal information for political purposes and ensure fair elections.”

Human Rights Watch spoke with election integrity, data protection, and privacy experts, officials from political parties, businesses engaged in data-driven marketing, and individuals whose data had been improperly utilized to target them in political campaigns. To understand how the political party and campaign websites treated user data, Human Rights Watch also conducted specialized analyses of those online resources.

They discovered that the government used information gathered from those who registered for the Covid-19 vaccine, or requested tax benefits to distribute Fidesz’s campaign topics.

For example, individuals who provided their personal information to a government-run website to register for the Covid-19 vaccine received political messaging designed to sway the elections in favor of the ruling party.

Democracy is hampered

The Orban government, according to its critics, have allegedly undermined the independence of the judiciary, influenced public institutions, constrained the media landscape, criminalized activities by civil society organizations, and demonized vulnerable groups and minorities. The 2022 elections were held after 12 consecutive years of Orban’s rule in the country.

Under local and international law, Hungary is obliged to defend individual rights to privacy and election participation. According to international standards, the freedom to participate in democratic elections must be subject to an equal playing field in politics.

People say they didn’t agree to receive any political ads

When registering on the vaccine website, many people Human Rights Watch spoke with stated they didn’t think they agreed to receive other political party or government communications. 

Hungarians also expressed outrage over using their registration information for political advertising. They said that the government had taken advantage of them during a time when they were vulnerable – during the pandemic.

This practice resembles techniques used by authoritarian regimes, such as Vladimir Putin’s in Russia, where the government systematically influences election outcomes while simultaneously supporting the ruling party’s campaign with state resources.

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