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Gov’t Sends Political Newsletters to E-mail Addresses Registered for Vaccination

Hungary Today 2022.01.12.

“Do you know what the most important changes are in 2022?”, is asked in an email sent by the “Government Information Center,” followed by a list of the government’s economic measures, such as wage increases in several sectors, tax cuts, the reintroduction of the 13th-month pension, and so on. The email is sent to people who had given their e-mail address and consent when registering for vaccination, presumably in the belief that they would only receive official information about the vaccination and the epidemiological situation.

This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute.

Millions of people registered on the vakcinainfo.gov.hu website set up by the government, specifically those who wanted to register for COVID-19 vaccination. They entered their email addresses to receive news about the vaccination and the epidemic. However, the government has barely used it to inform people.

Privacy concerns already emerged right after the website’s launch in December 2020, namely that the optional data consent that can be given during registration gives the state too much leeway in using email addresses, government critical news site Telex reported.

At the time, the Government Information Center told Telex that it would only use the permission to provide information about vaccinations. However, a recent email contradicts this.

In the past year, they have sporadically sent out emails, some of them with useful information or calling on people to receive the booster jab, while some emails seemed not to contain any important information.

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Recently, the center sent out a newsletter to the email addresses provided when registering for vaccination with information about the government’s economic measures planned for this year. Among other things:

  • Wage increases in several sectors
  • Tax cuts
  • Reintroduction of the 13th-month pension and pension increases
  • Income tax exemption for those under 25 years of age
  • Tax reductions for families and other family allowances
  • A government-subsidized program for the installation of solar panels.

After listing each of the topics, the newsletter referred to vaccination and the epidemic in general in just two sentences: “In 2022, we will continue to work to contain the epidemic through the vaccination program and keep the country functioning and strengthen it. Our goal is for every Hungarian to feel this in their own lives.”

Registration on the website

When registering on the ‘Vaccine Info’ website, one can tick two different boxes. The first one is obligatory: one must authorize the website to transmit their data to the National Health Insurance Fund Management (NEAK) in order to carry out the administrative registration procedure. If one ticks only this box, the sent data is to be deleted after transmission by the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister, where it is collected.

However, the second box says: “In accordance with the Privacy Notice and Information on the Processing of Personal Data, I consent to the processing of my personal details for the purposes of future contact, until such time as I withdraw that consent.” According to the notice, anyone who wishes to remain in contact with the Hungarian government can grant their voluntary consent to the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister, which collects and transfers the personal data they entered (name, address/place of residence, e-mail address, telephone number, age and social security/national health insurance (TAJ) number) to NEAK until the revocation of their consent.

Telex again asked the prime minister’s cabinet office if they do not find it problematic to use email addresses for information purposes other than the epidemic, contrary to their promise a year ago. In response, the office wrote:

“In recent months, the government has made a number of decisions that provide important support for millions of Hungarians. These include wage increases, tax cuts, the reinstatement of the 13th-month pension, tax exemption for young people, and the family allowance. This email provides a comprehensive overview of the key benefits that will be offered. In all cases, the government follows strict privacy rules when sending out information letters. Only those who have given their consent may have received such a letter.”

While this may be legally correct, the office did not respond to the fact that it had taken a different position a year earlier.

Official website on coronavirus also reports on the government’s economic measures

The government has also been constantly publishing news about its (non-epidemiological) measures on the official coronavirus information website, koronavirus.gov.hu for months. Tax cuts, a successful revival of the economy, expected economic growth, wage increases, tax cuts, record employment, increases in the minimum wage and other social benefits, and the credit moratorium – all of this can be found on the website that was actually created for news related to the epidemic.

Featured photo illustration via Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page

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