Public records on politically sensitive lands withheld from Direkt36

(Magyar) Forrás: Fejér Megyei Kormányhivatal/Direkt36

The land registry of Bicske issued a written decision denying Direkt36 access to public property data. This particular land registry handles the data on real estate around Felcsút, the rural town where the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán and his family owns a house and other properties.

We were frequent visitors at the Bicske land registry in March. In several installments we asked in total for data on 175 estates around Bicske. The officials were helpful at the beginning and handed over the data. According to Hungarian laws, property data are public, anybody can have access to them freely at the local land registry. The database is also available online but not for free: the fee is 3 euros per real estate. In the database there are information on the size and qualities of the property, on the owners and mortgages.

On April 1st we waited in the queue at the land registry just as we did in the past weeks, but when we finally got to give our newest data request to the official, she told us that unfortunately she can’t give us any more data. The head of the land registry and the head of the district office said we already asked for so much data that it counts as a “bulk data request”.  They also cited the law on on informational self-determination and freedom of information and said that our request violated the property owner’s right to privacy.

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A few days later the land registry stated in an official letter that they did not refuse our “bulk data request”, only asked us to specify parcel numbers of the estates we wanted to look into. They claimed that our journalist did not ask for specific parcel numbers. However, this not true: like on every other day when she went to the land registry, she used their own official data request form on which it is mandatory to fill in the parcel numbers.

After the official answer, we visited the Bicske land registry once again and we filed the data request form with the parcel numbers once again. They refused to give the data and told us to send a special written request form. We complied with the instructions and filed a list with every parcel number we want to look into. In an accompanying letter we justified our data request with the fact that property data are public in Hungary.

This request was dismissed by the Bicske registry in an official decision we received on Monday. The decision says we abused the principle of the publicity of property data, because, as they interpret it the law only allows individual but not bulk requests. “The land registry is obliged to prevent the mass acquisition of personal data,” they wrote.

Of course we didn’t want to misuse property or personal data, and surprisingly, the land registry itself was not really worried about this issue while we already looked into data on 175 estates in March.

Direkt36 is going to appeal the decision because we requested access to that data to gather information on issues in the public interest.