As reported by 444.hu back in February, the police tried to hide the aggregated data on the number of deaths by hypothermia, which could have revealed how many people died in the winter cold because they had nowhere to go to warm up. However, the Streetlawyer Association (“SLA”) and The City is for All Group investigated the case and obtained hypothermia data from recent years.
It was not easy to retrieve the data from the National Police Headquarters (“ORFK”). The police rejected the data request each time on the grounds that the data was not available to them. Therefore, the SLA filed a lawsuit in which the data requester Tessza Udvarhelyi was represented by the volunteer lawyer Noémi Molnár from the SLA. After two hearings, the court ordered the ORFK to release the hypothermia statistics of recent years to The City is for All Group (“AVM”). The decision was not appealed by the police, so it became final in the first instance.
We got the data and those are shocking, even in this summer heat. The recorded deaths during the winter heating season (October 15 to March 1) were examined and entered into a database.
The 2016-2017 database is divided two categories “suspected of dying due to hypothermia” and “death due to hypothermia established by an official procedure”. The categories are further divided into two sub-categories based on the dead occured in public or private space.
Furthermore, the police keep separate statistics for cases where the death investigation has not yet been completed. Overall, the data shows that between 15 October 2016 and 1 March 2017, 180 people died of hypothermia, 55 of them in public places and 125 in private areas. That means,, 70% of hypothermia cases occur in a home or covered premises. The most affected areas are Budapest, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg counties, which shows that this problem is mainly related to (housing) poverty. (Last updated: 30 July 2018)
AVM will publish a detailed analysis of the released data.
Why could the ORFK hide the data so much?
Police have been releasing official data to neither civilians nor journalists for years. The data to be made public, especially the cases of hypothermia related deaths inside the home, are extremely embarrassing for the state, which is probably why they wanted to keep the statistics secret.
When was the data request submitted? How long does a data request take if a lawsuit is necessary?
Tessza Udvarhelyi contacted the police on 19 October 2017, which refused to release the data on 8 November, beyond the 15-day response deadline. A lawsuit can be filed within 30 days of the refusal. SLA filed the lawsuit in December. The court issued the subpoena on 20 February 2018, and then pronounced its verdict on 17 April. As the police did not appeal the verdict, we still received the requested data relatively quickly. Many data processors do not disclose data despite court obligations, in which case enforcement proceedings can be initiated and a criminal complaint can be made for committing Misuse of Public Information. Although the latter cannot be considered an effective remedy, as this procedure is not aimed at releasing the data but at “finding” the person responsible.
Will a lawsuit be required in the future for the data requester to receive the desired data?
We hope that the judgment of the Metropolitan Court of Budapest, which is available on our website, can be of help to anyone who would like to request such data from the police in the future. However, this does not preclude that the police will be willing to release data only at the cost of a lawsuit in case of a new request, in order to delay the time. By delaying the time, the police only risk a few tens of thousands of forints in litigation, so if they want to keep the data secret in the future, it is worth for them keeping it secret.