The government has started sending propaganda material to email addresses that people voluntarily provided when they registered online to get the coronavirus vaccine, reports HVG.
To get vaccinated in Hungary, initially people had to book a time through the government’s Vaccine Info site. Two checkboxes were presented to the person using the site, one mandatory and the other optional. By ticking the mandatory box, the person who wanted to get vaccinated simply consented to sending necessary data to the National Health Insurance Fund (NEAK), without which they couldn’t have received the vaccine.
Next to the second, optional checkbox was the following text:
I consent to the processing of my personal details for the purposes of maintaining contact, as set forth in the privacy notice until I withdraw my consent.
The privacy notice stated that the person voluntarily consented to providing their personal details, in this case their name, email address, telephone number, and address, which would be handled by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office “for purposes of further contact, requesting information, providing information, or sending emails.” The Cabinet Office, headed by Minister Antal Rogán, is also responsible for government communication efforts, although processing the data of vaccine registrants is handled by a state-owned company called Idomsoft Zrt.
Emails are now more about government achievements than vaccine-related information
People presumably checked the second, optional checkbox on the Vaccine Info page to continue to receive information about available vaccines and other related information about the coronavirus epidemic in Hungary.
However, for some time now, Rogán’s ministry has been exceeding the authorization that was given by voluntarily ticking the box. In the past few days, several HVG employees have received the same email with the subject line, “Do you know about the most important changes for 2022?” sent by the Government Information Center from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regarding vaccination and the pandemic, the email only had this to say:
We will continue to work to reduce the epidemic through the vaccination program in 2022, and the country will continue to function and be further strengthened during this time. Our goal is for all Hungarians to experience this strengthening feeling in their own lives.
The rest of the email touts the government’s successes, detailing the measures taken at the beginning of this election year: raising the minimum wages for unskilled and skilled workers, wage increases in various industry sectors, tax cuts, the return of the 13th month pension, eliminating personal income tax for those under 25, tax breaks for families, and doubling the subsidies given for baby bonds.
But this email, sent at the beginning of the year, was not the first sent to those who registered for “vaccine information” that did not contain much information about the vaccine or the pandemic.
Last October, Viktor Orbán sent a similar letter to this email list trumpeting the success of the national consultation and its consequences: more than 1.4 million people had shared their thoughts with the government through the consultation, he wrote. Encouraged by this response, the government claimed it decided on a number of social welfare issues, which were largely the same measures listed in the later New Year’s email.
Gov’t told a different story back in 2020
In December 2020, news site Telex asked the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office what their specific intent was with the data they planned to collect. At that time, the Cabinet Office answered in a way that conformed with the likely expectations of people who checked the box:
We want to ensure that registrants have the opportunity to stay informed about the vaccine until they are notified of their vaccination date. The second consent allows this to be possible, subject to strict data protection rules. As in recent months, general information tasks related to the epidemic are being carried out by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, as indicted in provisions in the privacy notice.
Despite this statement, emails from the government in recent months appear to be using data for those who opted for “vaccine information” in quite a different way than what was originally promised.