Topház: Validity acted lawfully during its visit of the institution, confirms the Hungarian data protection authority

The Hungarian Data Protection Authority has found that Validity did not breach data protection and privacy rules when it visited the Topház social care institution and published its report exposing ill-treatment and neglect against residents of the institution. (Click here for Hungarian.)

The Topház Special Home is a State-run residential institution for children and adults with disabilities. It has capacity for 220 individuals and is located in Göd, a town approximately 30km from Budapest. Validity (formerly known as the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre) visited the institution five times between 15 February and 18 April 2017. During these visits, Validity uncovered serious abuse and ill-treatment of the residents that arguably amount to torture under international law. Its report exposing the instances of this ill-treatment and neglect was published on 3 May 2017.

The Hungarian ombudsman’s investigation from early 2017 confirmed Validity’s findings and in its report of 18 May 2017, the ombudsman stated that “overall, and the individual measures on their own raise the issue of violating the ban on degrading, inhuman treatment.”

Following the publication of the report, despite certain steps taken by the Hungarian Government, little is known about the status of the residents and whether the residents have been provided with the necessary medical and psychological assistance to remedy the ill-treatment.

Instead of dealing with the human rights violations, the Government opted to target Validity for exposing the truth to the public. Government ministers accused Validity of unlawfully entering the institution, taking photos of the residents and publishing them. The Director of the Directorate-General for Social Affairs and Child Protection (SZGYF), Zsolt Bátori, sent an unfounded complaint to the Hungarian Data Protection Authority alleging the violation of data protection rules for taking pictures and publishing the shocking conditions, which subsequently received worldwide coverage and international condemnation.

The Hungarian Data Protection Authority agreed with Validity’s position that the organisation was acting in the interests of the residents when taking the images and making them public.

According to the Authority, Validity’s allegations were supported by the Hungarian Ombudsman and there was ample evidence that the rights of the Topház residents were severely violated. Accordingly, Validity’s collection  of photographic evidence for legal and other actions on behalf of the residents was justified in order to protect the fundamental rights of the victims. The Authority found that in this case the fact that Validity did not obtain consent from the resident’s legal representatives did not render its actions unlawful as it was in fact impossible for Validity to obtain such consent when the serious human rights violations were discovered and documented.

The Authority added that it was satisfied that Validity took every necessary step to protect the privacy of the residents by anonymising the data and publishing anonymised photos.

Since publication of its report, Validity has reached out to the Government to offer assistance to the victims of Topház numerous times. Repeated requests have been rejected on every occasion with the Hungarian authorities refusing to cooperate due to the pending data protection investigation.

Now that the Hungarian Data Protection Authority has vindicated this organisation, Validity calls on the Hungarian Government to cooperate and to provide immediate, unfettered access to Topház for representatives of Validity and other representatives of civil society to monitor the situation and provide assistance to the victims.

Validity wishes to express its gratitude to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee for representing Validity in the proceedings before the Hungarian Data Protection Authority.