Hungary's central tourism database risks violating EU data protection rules

 Hungary's central tourism database risks violating EU data protection rules
Hungarian government could track citizens' movements using its new database.
By bne IntelliNews January 22, 2019

The Hungarian government will have unlimited access to the data of tourists stored in a central database, according to changes in the tourism law coming into effect this summer, local media reported on January 21. There is fear the government would use its broader power to spy on its citizens.

Hungarian hotels have to install new software by June 30 that will register guest nights and be accessible to authorities. Other accommodation providers have a few more months to comply with the regulation.

Changes in the new tourism rules are "aimed at spying on Hungarians”, opposition party Democratic Coalition (DK) said. The leftist party will turn to the European Commission because it considers the law may be in conflict with the European Union's principles on data protection.

After the launch of the database, the tax authority could launch an investigation into residents' holiday spending or collect information on participants of an opposition event, the DK fears.

However, the National Tourism Agency (MTU) has said data sent by hotels will only be used for statistical, tax and marketing purposes, and the software may only transmit data that does not contain personal data. These data will be accessible to the statistics agency, local government notaries and the tax office.

Another piece of legislation, however, will give police broader powers to look into the personal data of Hungarians.

The government says the regulations are aimed at whitening the economy. Private accommodation providers still represent a huge chunk of the market in the popular resort area Lake Balaton and many still operate in the grey or black zone.

Tourism accounts for some 10% of GDP and the government is striving to boost its share to 16% as it has been declared a strategic industry. The business elite close to the ruling Fidesz party has bought up hotels and camp sites near Lake Balaton and in other key areas.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's son-in-law and his best friend Lorinc Meszaros have both made huge investments in the sector, and are likely to benefit from the huge state financing. In 2017, the government launched a HUF300bn (€955mn) scheme with HUF150bn in grants for commercial accommodation developments.