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ECHR: THE SYSTEMATIC PUBLISHING OF TAX DEBTORS' PERSONAL DATA VIOLATES THE RIGHT TO PRIVATE LIFE

In its judgment delivered on March 9, 2023, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found, by 15 votes to 2, that Hungary breached the right to respect private and family life about a legislative policy envisaging the systematic publication of the tax debtors’ data in case their arrears were more than 10 million HUF (approx 26,000 EUR).


In this case, the complaint was about the breach of Article 8 ECHR due to the publication of the applicant’s name and address on the list of “major tax debtors” posted on the website of Hungarian tax authorities. In ruling on this complaint, the Grand Chamber found that such a policy does not provide “a fair balance between the competing interests at stake,” i.e., enhancing tax compliance and protecting individual rights (par. 139).


As argued by the Grand Chamber, there “is no evidence that consideration was given to the impact of the ... publication scheme on the right to privacy, and in particular the risk of misuse of the tax debtor’s home address by other members of the public” (par. 134). Moreover, it does not appear that the legislator gave consideration “to the potential reach of the medium used for the dissemination of the information in question, namely the fact that the publication of personal data on the Tax Authority’s website implied that irrespective of the motives in obtaining access to the information anyone, worldwide, who had access to the Internet also had unrestricted access to information about the name as well as the home address of each tax debtor on the list, with the risk of republication as a natural, probable and foreseeable consequence of the original publication.” (par. 135) “Thus, in so far as it could be said that publication of that list corresponded to a public interest, Parliament does not appear to have considered to what extent publication of all the data in question, and in particular the tax debtor’s home address, was necessary in order to achieve the original purpose of the collection of relevant personal data in the interests of the economic well-being of the country.” (par. 136)


In the partly concurring and partly dissenting opinion, Judge Serghides, by concluding for the “violation of Article 8 § 1 of the Convention,” would “make an award to the applicant in respect of non-pecuniary damage.” In the joint dissenting opinion, Judges Wojtyczek and Paczolay concluded for “no violation of the applicant’s right to respect for his private life as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention.” They argued that “even accepting the applicant’s argument that he had a privacy interest in the non-disclosure of his home address combined with financial information about him, these repercussions did not appear excessive in the particular circumstances of the present case. We attach considerable weight in our assessment to the context in which those data were published. As described above, there is an obvious public aspect to tax collection and a taxpayer cannot reasonably expect that failure to settle his or her tax liabilities, especially in a field so much in the public eye as tax evasion, will remain a purely private matter. Thus, the interest in non-disclosure asserted by the applicant lay in practice not in preserving the privacy of purely personal matters, but rather in preserving his anonymity regarding his conduct as a taxpayer.” (par. 31)


See European Court of Human Rights, Grand Chamber, L.B. v. Hungary, Application no. 36345/16.



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