7 years after the Church of Scientology were fined for data protection violations, the Hungarian authorities are keeping a close eye on their activities in what they describe as “enforcement proceedings”.
Last month, we reported eleven Scientology executives in Budapest were charged in a $1.7 million fraud scandal and earlier this week, journalist Tony Ortega revealed a further 21 individuals were convicted of “quackery” (dishonest practice) in a case relating to Scientology’s purification program and Narconon drug-rehabilitation program.
The charges stem from a 2017 police raid on 30 properties across Hungary, in which over 2,000 documents were seized and data protection violations were found by the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Authority (NAIH). The searches laid the foundation for a string of legal cases against Scientology that are still currently ongoing, seven years later.
The first case to be brought against the group was for data protection violations, with judges ruling Scientology were illegally processing parishioners’ information and failed to comply with strict data protection laws. At the time, NAIH’s President Dr. Attila Péterfalvi said investigations revealed “really serious abuses” were found and fines were issued against the organisation and its key executives, totalling 64 million HUF ($185,000 USD / £145,000 GBP).
It is unclear whether Alexandra Pati-Nagy, who describes herself as “30 years on staff as a Mission Holder from Hungary”, and who recently posted a photo of herself on social media after attesting to OT V at Scientology’s Advanced Organisation in South Africa, is one of those suspected of fraud.
In light of the recent fraud and medical malpractice cases, we contacted the NAIH to see if there were any updates on the 2017 ruling and they confirmed Scientology have now paid the fines in full, after contesting and failing to overturn every judgement made against them. In a statement issued to Scientology Business, the NAIH General Vice-President Tamás Bendik told us “This review procedure which ended with the success of the Authority has been followed by the enforcement proceedings for the enforcement of the actions prescribed by the decision relating to the Church of Scientology Hungary and the ‘Scientology Church Central Organisation’, which proceedings are currently in progress. With regard to the enforcement proceeding being in progress, the Authority may not share further information.”
He clarified “rules of the Hungarian administrative procedures allow the legal remedy against the administrative decisions in judicial proceedings, which the controllers applied to, in a way that they have challenged besides the above mentioned two decisions several rulings of the Authority, but they have lost all proceedings.”
The data protection case, although resulting in a nominal fine for the multi-billion dollar Scientology organisation, forced lawyers to clarify the type of records kept on its staff members and parishioners. Court documents specify the difference between Ethics files, PC Folders, Central Files and “VAL DOCs”, and outline exactly how they are used in the day-to-day running of the Church. Despite the advent of the computer in 1973, and the internet 10 years later, Scientology still keep the majority of these files in hard copy, paper files with only a small number of records being digitised into an internal system.
According to the statement of the representative of the Church of Scientology Hungary Central Organization, the following paper-based folders are kept:
a) CF Folders, also known as mailing files, containing correspondence with believers and the public, telephone records, e-mail exchanges, certificates of services made use of, receipts of payments. The purpose of the data processing is to show the maintenance of contact with believers.
b) PC Folders which document the preclear’s path to spiritual freedom as described above. They contain notes written by the data subject, the minister, or the case supervisor. According to the statement of the representative of the CSH Central Organization the folder is fully in accordance with Recital 27 of Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (hereinafter the Directive), because it is an unstructured file not including or linking to any system allowing personal or special data to be easily accessed.
c) Ethics Folders, which are aimed at helping the data subject return to honesty and uprightness, be able to progress towards total spiritual freedom with the help of ethics treatments which are based on various documents processing ethics and judicial actions. The folders may include reports on a believer or a staff member, records and results of ethics and judicial procedures taken in respect of a person, as well as various praises of him or her. The seal of confession applies to the contents of the Files, because the data subject shares ethical and moral information, and reveals his or her sins, which is a kind of confessional process. The files are accessible only to the persons conducting ethics procedures and case supervisors. Contrary to the PC Folders, these folders can be accessed by believers with the help of ethics staff, and, in certain cases, they may request full ‘clearing’ of the file. Like PC Folders, Ethics Folders are not kept electronically, and it was emphasized that these qualify as unstructured data files.
d) Staff Member Folders include employee agreements, qualification forms, notes, interviews, tests, which are sometimes collected and systematized for promotion and relocation. According to their statement, it can be stated that these files qualify as unstructured data files.
e) Valuable documents (also known as VAL DOC) include copies of employee agreements, enrolment forms, other forms signed by believers, most of which contain data protection information and statements of consent.
f) Student Folders contain the materials concerning training courses staff members and believers have taken, including names, addresses, telephone numbers, and invoices. According to their opinion, it can be stated that these files qualify as unstructured data files.
g) Financial documents are also kept, including balance sheets, invoices, receipts, donation documents.Court Decision, Hungary v Church of Scientology 2017 (Case Number: NAIH/2017/148/98/H)
Hungary’s persistence in bringing cases against Scientology and their continued enforcement of prior court rulings sets an example, ensuring they are not afforded special protection under the guise of ‘freedom of religion’. The cases clearly relate to Scientology’s practices and activities, carefully avoiding ruling on the beliefs or any ‘spiritual’ elements of their doctrine, and we can only hope other European countries follow this example..
You can read the statement we received from Hungary’s Data Protection office below, as well as the full 2017 court ruling, both in English.