Reforming a two-party Parliament

Malta’s electoral system has, over the years, been transformed into a duopoly. Discrimination is inbuilt into electoral legislation in order to effectively ensure that Parliament remains a two-party affair. It is discrimination by design. It is not accidental but specifically intended.

Our electoral system (STV: Single Transferable Vote) started off being applied in 1921 as one focused on the individual candidate, generally ignoring the political parties. Over the years a number of important changes shifted the focus of the STV from the individual candidate to the political party.

The first such change was carried out prior to the 1976 general elections: the electoral ballot paper was then redesigned such that same party candidates started being grouped together with a colour code identifying the different political parties. This was a radical change as up to that point, for over fifty years, all candidates in an electoral district were listed alphabetically. Up till that point it was a common occurrence for votes to switch from one party to the other in successive counts as the semi-literate voter, would not always distinguish between one party candidate and the candidates from other parties. As a result, many a parliamentary seat was lost or switched allegiance over the years.

The second change took place in 1987 and was fine-tuned in subsequent years. It started off as a reaction to the impact of jerrymandering of electoral districts, specifically the 1981 general election result. Originally it was designed as a constitutional guarantee for majority rule, ensuring that whichever political party surpassed the 50 per cent vote count it would be guaranteed a majority of parliamentary seats. Subsequently it was developed into a formula for ensuring proportionality between first count votes and parliamentary seats. There is however an important condition attached: this is only applicable if just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third one gains just one seat, no proportionality is guaranteed, except in one specific instant: when a political party obtains in excess of the 50 per cent mark it is still guaranteed a majority of Parliamentary seats. Our Constitution expects that the rest have to lump it.

The third change is in the pipeline. It involves an additional adjustment: a gender balance mechanism. A maximum of twelve parliamentary seats will be added to the total to represent the under-represented gender! Yes, you have guessed: they will be split equally between the duopoly. In addition, the seats will not be available for distribution the moment a third political party makes it into parliament.

Let me be very clear. Proportionality between votes cast and parliamentary seats won is essential. Likewise, it is essential to address the gender imbalance in our parliament. However, both adjustments can be done fairly, without any discrimination, and importantly without increasing the size of Parliament astronomically as will inevitably happen at the next general election if only two political parties make it to Parliament. In fact, it is perfectly possible not to have any increase in size of Parliament at all if the appropriate changes are carried out!

Over the years the political party which I lead has made several proposals on these matters. The latest proposal was made in the context of the public consultation on addressing gender imbalance in Parliament. Even then we emphasised that tinkering with the electoral system and adding top-ups would not solve anything. A complete overhaul of the system is required. Instead, the “gender balance reform” ended up advocating “as little as possible disruption of the electoral system”. Government and Opposition agreed to reinforce the existing discrimination in our electoral system.

Unfortunately, our proposals have been ignored once more and we have no choice but to resort to our Courts to address a blatantly discriminatory electoral system imposed on us by Labour and Nationalist Members of Parliament. On such matters they always agree.

In such circumstances fragmentation of the political spectrum is the worst possible option for those who want to emphasise a specific point. Those who end up playing the “independent” are pawns of the duopoly, unwittingly reinforcing the two-party system. They end up siphoning votes and thereby deliberately weakening a potential third voice which can make it to Parliament. The merger between AD and PD in the past months is the appropriate antidote in such circumstances.

Instead of focusing on minor differences it would be appropriate if all of us give more weight to the overall picture. It is an uphill struggle, but we should not be deterred!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 30 May 2021

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020

It-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ: perikoluża?

San Francisco hi l-ewwel belt fl-Istati Uniti li pprojibiet l-użu mill-forzi tal-ordni ta’ teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuh. Probabbilment li ma jdumx ma jkun hemm bliet oħra fl-Istati Uniti li jagħmlu l-istess.

Id-dibattitu f’ San Francisco ilu għaddej. Dawk li jaqblu mal-projibizzjoni huma tal-fehma li din it-teknoloġija mhux biss hi difettuża imma li hi ukoll ta’ theddida serja għad-drittijiet ċivili.

It-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ hi invażiva. Fl-istat attwali tal-iżvilupp tagħha għadha difettuża imma għandha l-potenzjal li tkun preċiża 100%. Imbagħad tkun tista’ tintuża mhux biss biex jingħarfu l-uċuħ imma ukoll biex tkun identifikata informazzjoni oħra dwar dawk li jkunu fil-mira.

Riċerkaturi fl-Università Jiao Tong f’Shanghai iċ-Ċina għamlu żmien jesperimentaw b’ritratti ta’ persuni magħrufa bħala kriminali u oħrajn li m’humiex. Bħala riżultat tar-riċerka tagħhom qed jissuggerixxu li t-teknoloġija użata tista’ tidentifika kriminali minn filmati ġodda b’certezza ta’ kważi 90 fil-mija.


Riċerkaturi fl-Università ta’ Stanford fl-Istati Uniti f’estratt minn studju li ser jippubblikaw dalwaqt, jindikaw, li t-teknoloġija għall-għarfien tal-uċuħ hi iktar preċiża mill-bniedem innifsu biex minn ritratti tagħraf l-orjentazzjoni sesswali ta’ persuna. Fir-riċerka tagħhom jgħidu li użaw il-fuq minn 130,000 ritratt meħud minn siti elettroniċi fejn persuni jitkellmu dwar l-orjentazzjoni sesswali tagħhom. Bħala riżultat ta’ analiżi bijometrika, jgħidu ir-riċerkaturi, t-teknoloġija użata kapaċi tagħraf u tiddistingwi l-orjentazzjoni sesswali ta’ irġiel bi preċiżjoni ta’ 81% minn ritratt wieħed. Jekk ikun hemm aċċess għal ħames ritratti, l-preċiżjoni titla’ għal 91%.

Bla ebda dubju, maż-żmien jiġu identifikati iktar applikazzjonijiet possibli ta’ din it-teknoloġija. Meta tkun ipperfezzjonata din it-teknoloġija tista’ tkun għodda tal-biża’ f’idejn reġim awtoritarju.

Il-pulizija fir-Renju Unit, f’dawn iż-żmienijiet, qed japplikaw it-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ għall-ordni pubblika.

Big Brother Watch, NGO li taħdem favur id-drittijiet ċivili fir-Renju Unit identifikat li bl-użu ta’ din it-teknoloġija 9 minn kull 10 persuni arrestati kienu innoċenti għax it-teknoloġija ħadmet ħażin. 90% żbalji mhux ċajta f’materja daqshekk sensittiva. Biż-żmien, bla dubju, dan id-difett ikun irrimedjat u dan għax tkun akkumulata iktar data li tagħmilha possibli li jingħarfu l-uċuħ.

Bi sħab mal-Huawei, il-ġgant Ċiniż fil-qasam tat-telekomunikazzjoni, l-Gvern Malti qed ifassal proġett immirat lejn is-sigurtà tal-lokalitajiet: il-proġett Safe Cities. Tlett lokalitajiet jidher li ġew identifikati għall-proġett pilota f’Malta: l-Marsa, San Pawl il-Baħar u Paceville.

Xi xhur ilu, l-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tad-Data f’Malta, meta kien intervistat, emfasizza li meta jkun ikkunsidrat l-użu tat-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ tinħtieġ attenzjoni kbira biex ikunu mħarsa drittijiet fundamentali tal-bniedem. Huwa emfasizza li kien obbligu tal-Gvern li jistudja din it-teknoloġija bir-reqqa biex ikun aċċertat l-effettività tagħha fil-ġlieda kontra l-kriminalità.

Il-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tad-Data huwa ppreokkupat ukoll dwar id-data akkumulta u l-potenzjal li din tintuża ħażin biex tintraċċa l-movimenti tal-persuni u b’hekk timmina d-dritt tal-privatezza.

It-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ, bħal kull teknoloġija oħra, tista’ tintuża tajjeb imma tista’ ukoll tintuża ħażin. Tista’ tgħinna nkunu iktar siguri, imma tista’ tgerrem (bla ma nindunaw) id-drittijiet tagħna. Hemm il-potenzjal, imma hemm ukoll responsabbiltajiet kbar.

Bi storja ta’ istituzzjonijiet ta’ bla utilità li repetutament ma kienux kapaċi jieqfu lil dawk fil-poter, ma tantx qegħdin tajjeb.

It-teknoloġija għall-għarfien tal-uċuħ tista’ tikkonċentra wisq informazzjoni (u poter) f’idejn il-Pulizija. Dan jista’ jkun perikoluż jekk il-kontroll fuq l-informazzjoni miġbura ma tkunx waħda qawwija.

Li ninvestu fis-sigurtà tagħna ma jfissirx li għandna nċedu l-privatezza tagħna.

F’din l-era diġitali hu meħtieġ li s-sorveljanza tkun kontabbli quddiem istituzzjonijiet demokratiċi msaħħa. Kif dan jista’ jsir għadu kmieni imma hu essenzjali għax il-Huawei flimkien mal-pulizija jistgħu jiffurmaw team perikoluz għad-demokrazija tagħna. Is-soluzzjoni addottata minn San Fransisco tista’ tkun meqjusa bħala radikali wisq. Imma sakemm ikun assigurat li s-sorveljanza tkun soġġetta għal kontabilità demokratika, ma tantx jidher li hemm soluzzjonijiet.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Mejju 2019

Facial recognition technology : as creepy as it gets

San Francisco is the first city in the United States to ban the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes and other US cities may follow suit. The San Francisco debate has been ongoing for quite some time. Those supporting the ban underline that facial recognition technology is flawed and a serious threat to civil liberties.

Facial technology is an invasive technology. In its present state of development, it is weak, but it has the potential to be 100 per cent accurate. It can then be used not just for recognition purposes but also for the profiling of those it is aimed at.

Researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China have been experimenting with photographs of criminals and non-criminals. It is being suggested by these researchers that the technology they used can identify criminals from new images with an accuracy of 89.5%. It gets creepier and creepier.

Researchers at Stanford University in the United States have indicated in a preview of a Paper they will be publishing shortly that facial recognition technology “is more accurate than humans at detecting sexual orientation from pictures of people.” In their research, they made use of over 130,000 images taken from dating sites on which people give their sexual orientation. On the basis of the biometric analysis made, it is being claimed that the technology in use can distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81 per cent of cases from just one photograph. If the number of photographs increases to five, the accuracy jumps to 91 per cent.

Without any shadow of doubt, many more applications of facial recognition technology will be identified and, when perfected, this technology would be the perfect tool for authoritarian regimes.

Currently, the police in various parts of the United Kingdom are using facial recognition technology for law and order purposes. Civil Liberties NGO Big Brother Watch has identified that in nine out of every 10 cases the wrong person was identified. This resulted in 90 per cent of people being arrested as a result of being wrongly identified. Over time, this would be remedied through the use of a larger database which would be accumulated and available for use with the facial recognition technology.

The issues resulting are manifold. In conjunction with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, the government is planning a Safe Cities project. Three areas have apparently been identified for a pilot project: Marsa, St Paul’s Bay and Paceville.

When interviewed some months ago, Malta’s Data Protection Commissioner emphasised that when considering making use of facial recognition technology, great care should be taken in order that fundamental human rights are not infringed. He rightly stated that it was the government’s duty to carefully study the matter in order to ascertain its effectiveness in addressing criminality. He also spoke on the potential misuse of the accumulated data, as this had the potential of tracing the whereabouts of an individual thereby undermining the right to privacy.

Face recognition technology, like any other technology can be used and abused. It can make us feel safer, but it also has the potential to gnaw at our freedoms, without our realising it. There is certainly great potential but there are also enormous responsibilities.

Having a history of practically useless institutions which, time and again, have not been capable of standing up to those in power, is not a good point of departure. Facial recognition technology has the potential of concentrating too much information (and power) in the hands of the police. This may be very dangerous unless data protection oversight is robust. Investing in our security does not require surrendering our privacy.

In this digital age we require our surveillance to be democratically accountable. Whether and how this is done is still to be seen in a public consultation exercise which will hopefully be carried out. It is, however, essential as the Huawei-police tandem can be lethal to our democracy. The San Francisco solution may be seen as being too radical.

However, until such time that surveillance is subject to democratic accountability, there is no other solution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 May 2019

Kunsill ta’ San Ġiljan u l-ħarsien tad-drittijiet fundamentali

Il-bieraħ f’San Ġiljan fejn ser nikkontesta l-elezzjoni tal-Kunsill Lokali indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar il-ħidma fil-lokalità. Il-prijorità ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hi dejjem il-ħarsien tan-nies u tal-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom.

Il-ħidma għal toroq u bankini aħjar trid tissokta mhux biss bi programm ta’ tiswija regolari imma billi jkun assigurat illi l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Ġiljan jaħdem id f’id ma’ Infrastructure Malta ħalli l-investiment ta’ €700 miljun li ser jagħmel il-Gvern fit-toroq tal-pajjiż ikollu effett posittiv fuq San Ġiljan ukoll.

Għandu jkun hemm investiment adegwat ukoll fil-bankini. Ħafna minnhom saru biex jaġevolaw il-karozzi fil-garaxxijiet bil-konsegwenza li diversi bankini spiċċaw tlajja u nżul kontinwi b’detriment għal min huwa vulnerabbli. Bl-istess mod, il-Kunsill Lokali għandu jara li l-bankini ikunu ħielsa minn ostakli li ħafna drabi iġiegħlu lir-residenti, partikolarment dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli jimxu fin-nofs tat-triq. Din hija kwistjoni prijoritarja ta′ aċċessibilità għar-residenti kollha, inkluż ghat-turisti.

F’Paceville, fil-lokalità ta’ San Ġiljan, il-Gvern qed jippjana li jwettaq il-proġett Safe Cities li permezz tiegħu tintuża t-teknoloġija tal-informatika biex tassisti lill-pulizija fiż-żamma tal-ordni pubbliku. Alternattiva Demokratika fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’San Ġiljan taħdem biex tassigura li f’kull ħin tkun assigurata l-ikbar livell ta’ ħarsien ta’ privatezza fit-twettieq ta’ dan il-proġett. Għal dan l-iskop il-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Ġiljan għandu jinvolvi ruħu attivament fil-konsultazzjoni pubblika neċessarja għal dan l-iskop fl-interess tar-residenti.

Infakkar li teknoloġija simili qed tiġi ppruvata f’diversi pajjiżi madwar id-dinja. Fir-Renju Unit t-teknoloġija simili hi użata mill-Pulizija. L-NGO li tħares id-drittijiet ċivili, Big Brother Watch, f’rapport ippublikat madwar sena ilu tirrapporta li f’9 minn 10 każi (iva 90%) is-sistemi użati qed jagħtu riżultati żbaljati. Jispiċċaw arrestati persuni li m’għandhomx x’jaqsmu! F’rapport intitolat Face Off. The lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing dan hu spjegat fid-dettall. Identifikaw uċuħ ta’persuni innoċenti. Dan apparti li r-ritratti biometriċi ta’ persuni innoċenti inżammu u nħażnu mill-Pulizija b’mod sfaċċat kontra kull regola bażika tal-ħarsien tad-data.

Dan kollu jfisser li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Ġiljan li ser ikun elett fil-25 ta’ Mejju li ġej għandu impenn ieħor quddiemu: iż-żamma tal-ordni pubbliku għandu jsir f’ħarsien sħiħ tad-drittijiet bażiċi tal-bniedem. M’hux aċċettabbli teknoloġija li twassal għal żball f’90% tal-każi. Irridu naraw ukoll li r-ritratti u l-filmati meħuda ma jinħażnux iktar milli hemm bżonn.

L-isfidi tal-Kunsilli Lokali illum imorru lil hinn mill-bankina u t-triq.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena ser inkun hemm biex flimkien naraw li ħadd ma jkun imkasbar. Il-Kunsill Lokali għandu jkun fuq quddiem nett biex jara li d-drittijiet ta’ kulħadd ikunu mħarsa.

Għax waqt li l-Gvern Malti qiegħed jesperimenta bid-drittijiet tagħna flimkien mal-Huawei, ħaddiehor qed jipprojibixxi dan kollu kif għamlu din il-ġimgħa f’San Francisco!

St. Julian’s Local Council and the surveillance state

At St.Julian’s, this morning, I addressed a press conference with reference to my candidacy for the Local Council elections. The quality of life of residents is central to Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party.

Ensuring that our roads and pavements are in good shape is an ongoing commitment. To this we must add the need for the St.Julian’s Local Council to work hand-in-hand with  Infrastructure Malta in order to ensure that the €700 million investment in roads has a beneficial impact on St.Julian’s. Most pavements need replacement too, having been mutilated to facilitate access to garages to the detriment of the vulnerable who due to this and other obstacles, many a time end up walking in the middle of the road. This is a priority for all. Each one of us requires our roads to be reasonably accessible at all times. Both residents and tourists.

At Paceville, within the St.Julian’s locality, government is planning the implementation of a Safe Cities project through which technology will be used to assist the police in law and order.  Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party elected onto the St Julian’s Local Council will strive to ensure that the technology used respects privacy at all times. In order for this to be achieved the St Julian’s Local Council should be actively involved in the public consultation on this matter.

It would be appropriate to remember that this type of technology is being tested in various countries around the globe. In the United Kingdom similar technology is in use by the Police. The civil rights NGO by the name of Big Brother Watch, in a report published around one year ago emphasised that the technology in use is identifying people incorrectly in 9 cases out of 10 (that’s 90%). Innocent people end up being arrested. In a report entitled Face Off. The lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing this is explained in detail. The wrong faces were identified. This in addition to biometric data of innocent persons being retained by the police contrary to all basic rules of data protection.

This signifies that the St Julian’s Local Council to be elected on 25 May will have one additional responsibility: ensuring that upholding public order is done in full respect of basic human rights. It is not acceptable to use technology which is wrong 90% of the time. It also needs to be ensured that all electronic records are not retained more that is reasonably necessary.

The challenges which our Local Councils must face go beyond the maintenance of roads and public spaces.

On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party I will be there to ensure that no one is ill-treated. The Local Council will lead the way to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.

Wiċċ b’ieħor

Safe City Malta, li tifforma parti minn Projects Malta li tippjana proġetti ta’ tisħib mas-settur privat, qed tippjana li jkunu installati cameras CCTV b’kapacità li jidentifikaw l-uċuħ ta’ dawk li x-xbieha tagħhom tinqabad fuq is-CCTV. Qed jingħad li b’dan il-mod ikun possibli li jkunu identifikati persuni li jkunu involuti f’attività kriminali.

Dwar dan ukoll hemm referenza fid-diskors tal-Baġit fejn kien tħabbar li : “Fl-aħħar xhur kienet għaddejja ħidma biex ġie installat l-apparat neċessarju f’data centre għal użu fuq bażi sperimentali u fejn l-apparat ta’ sorveljanza viżiva qiegħed jintuża biss f’ambjent mhux pubbliku u f’rispett sħiħ tal-liġijiet tal-privatezza billi jiġu wżati prattii etiċi internazzjonali.” Ġejna infurmati li Paceville u l-Marsa, probabbilment li jkunu minn tal-ewwel li jospitaw dan l-esperiment. Dan kellu jsir wara li sseħħ konsultazzjoni pubblika.

Imma s’issa ma seħħet l-ebda konsultazzjoni. Nafu iżda li x’aktarx li diġa ġie iffirmat memorandum of understanding mal-Huawei, kumpanija Ċiniża li hi meqjusa ġgant globali fil-qasam tat-teknoloġija tal-komunikazzjoni. Fix-xhur li ġejjin probabbilment tibda l-implementazzjoni. Dan ifisser li jekk il-konsultazzjoni sseħħ ma jkollha tifsira ta’ xejn, għax id-deċiżjonijiet jidher li lesti.

Iktar kmieni din is-sena, Huawei, ftehmu mad-Dipartiment tas-Sigurtà Pubblika tar-reġjun ta’ Xinjiang fil-punent taċ-Ċina. Intefqu flejjes kbar f’dan ir-reġjun biex f’Xinjiang ikun possibli li tkun ippruvata t-teknoloġija għall-għarfien tal-uċuħ, osservazzjoni diġitali u l-applikazzjoni tal-intelliġenza artifijali għal xogħol il-pulizija. Huawei ser jipprovdu lill-pulizija tar-reġjun l-appoġġ tekniku biex ikunu żviluppati l-kapaċitajiet tan-nies involuti u b’hekk tissodisfa l-ħtiġijiet diġitali tal-industrija tas-sigurtà pubblika, ġie rappurtat li qal Fan Lixin, il-Viċi Direttur tad-Dipartiment tas-Sigurtà Pubblika ta’ Xinjiang . Din il-kooperazzjoni kienet meqjusa li tista’ tassigura “l-istabilità soċjali u s-sigurtà fit-tul ta’ Xinjiang”.

Dan jikkuntrasta ma dak li nsibu fir-rapport annwali ta’ Huawei għas-sena 2017 li jwassal messaġġ ċar: Huawei jimpurtha ħafna mill-privatezza. Jgħidulna li fl-2017 “Huawei continued to strengthen compliance in multiple business domains, including trade, cyber security, and data and privacy protection.” Jgħidulna ukoll dwar “il-ħsiebijiet ta’ Huawei dwar is-sigurtà elettronika – li tissaħħaħ bl-innovazzjoni, bil-kollaborazzjoni u bl-iżvilupp tal-fiduċja fid-dinja diġitali.” Probabbilment li dan il-kuntrast jirriżulta minħabba li l-messaġġi huma indirizzati lejn udjenzi differenti!

Iktar viċin tagħna, l-pulizija fir-Renju Unit ilhom ftit taż-żmien jesperimentaw bit-teknoliġija li tirrikonoxxi l-uċuħ. Big Brother Watch, grupp li jikkampanja favur id-drittijiet ċivili fir-Renju Unit jirrapporta li s-sistemi użati jagħtu riżultati żbaljati 9 darbiet minn 10. F’rapport twil 56 paġna, li kien ippubblikat f’Mejju li għadda bit-titlu Face Off. The lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing. kien konkluż li 95 fil-mija tal-uċuħ identifikati mis-sistema kienu żbaljati: kienu wiċċ b’ieħor. Identifikaw uċuħ ta’persuni innoċenti. Dan apparti li r-ritratti biometriċi ta’ persuni innoċenti inżammu u nħażnu mill-Pulizija b’mod sfaċċat kontra kull regola bażika tal-ħarsien tad-data.

L-użu tat-teknoloġija biex jingħarfu l-uċuħ tan-nies bħala għodda ta’ l-ordni pubbliku hi għall-qalb il-pulizija, li fuq il-karta jistgħu jgħidu li qed isaħħu l-kapaċitajiet tagħhom fil-ġlieda kontra l-kriminalità. Għall-bqija imma, dan hu ħmar-il lejl u dan billi jekk it-teknoloġija ma tintużax fil-parametri tar-regoli bażiċi tal-ħarsien tad-data tkun invażjoni tal-privatezza li kull wieħed u waħda minna aħna intitolati għaliha.

Il-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tad-Data u l-Informazzjoni Saviour Cachia, f’intervista mal-Orizzont iktar kmieni din il-ġimgha qal li kien jistenna li l-awtoritajiet jagħmlu analiżi addattata qabel ma jagħmlu użu ta’ teknoloġija li kapaċi tagħraf l-uċuħ. Is-Sur Cachia emfasizza li għad baqa’ ħafna xi jsir qabel ma nistgħu nikkunsidraw meta u kif it-teknoloġija għall-għarfien tal-uċuħ tista’ tuntuża fil-qasam tas-sigurtà. Ħadd ma jaf jekk l-analiżi li ġibed l-attenzjoni għaliha s-Sur Cachia saritx, jew jekk tal-inqas inbdietx. Din it-teknoloġija tinvadi l-privatezza ta’ kulħadd b’sogru li tikser d-drittijiet fundamentali tagħna lkoll.

Meta jkun eżaminat dettaljatament kif l-użu ta’ din it-teknoloġija jista’ jkollha effett fuq l-attività kriminali inkunu f’posizzjoni aħjar biex niddeċiedu x’sens jagħmel li nissagrifikaw il-privatezza tagħna, anke jekk b’mod limitat, biex l-istat jissorvelja u sa ċertu punt jikkontrolla parti minn ħajjitna. L-esperjenza tal-użu ta’ din it-teknoloġija fir-Renju Unit għandha twassalna għall-konklużjoni waħda: għandna nsemmgħu leħinna u nieqfu lill-istat li jrid jissorvelja ħajjitna.

Il-Gvern għandu l-obbligu li jibda konsultazzjoni pubblika immedjatament u jpoġġi l-pjanijiet tiegħu taħt il-lenti tal-iskrutinjun pubbliku.


Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Novembru 2018

Standing up to the surveillance state

Safe City Malta, part of the government’s public-private partnership arm Projects Malta, is planning to deploy high-definition CCTV cameras with facial recognition software. It is claimed that these cameras can identify those involved in criminal activity. The subject was referred to in the budget speech in which it was announced that, after adequate public consultation, such technology will be introduced in a number of areas. Paceville and Marsa are the prime candidates for this technology.

So far, no consultation has taken place, but a Memorandum of Understanding has apparently already been signed with the Chinese global communication technology giant Huawei, and implementation could begin in the coming months. So, the consultation, if carried out, will serve no purpose because the decisions have already been made.

Earlier this year, Huawei entered into an agreement with the Public Security Bureau in Xinjiang, China’s largest province. The Chinese authorities have spent heavily on making Xinjiang a testing ground for the use of facial recognition, digital monitoring and artificial intelligence in policing.

Huawei will provide the region’s police with technical support, help build up human technical expertise and “meet the digitization requirements of the public security industry”. A local government website paraphrased Fan Lixin, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau’s deputy director, as saying that such co-operation would guarantee “Xinjiang’s social stability and long-term security.”

The above quote is in contrast to the contents of Huawei’s Annual Report for 2017,  which drives home the message that Huawei cares a great deal about privacy. We are told that, in 2017, “Huawei continued to strengthen compliance in multiple business domains, including trade, cyber security and data and privacy protection.” We are furthermore informed of the “Huawei’s cyber security concepts – building security through innovation, enhancing security through collaboration and jointly building trust in a digital world.”

The contrast is probably the result of the messages being directed towards different audiences!

Closer to home, police in the United Kingdom have been experimenting with facial recognition technology for some time. Big Brother Watch, a UK based civil liberties group, reports that the systems in use are on average, incorrect nine times out of ten. A 56-page report published in May, entitled Face Off: the lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing. concluded that “a staggering 95 per cent of matches wrongly identified innocent people”. To add insult to injury, innocent people’s biometric photographs were taken and stored without their knowledge in blatant disregard of basic data protection norms.

The use of facial recognition technology as a law and order tool has been welcomed by the police, as it can theoretically enhance their capabilities in the fight against crime. The proposal, however, is a nightmare for the rest of us because if it is not used within the parameters of data protection legislation, facial recognition technology will be an unacceptable invasion of the basic norms of privacy to which each one of us is entitled to.

The Commissioner for Information and Data Protection Saviour Cachia, interviewed by the GWU’s daily newspaper earlier this week emphasised that he expected that a proper assessment to be carried out by the authorities prior to the use of facial recognition technology. Mr Cachia emphasised the fact much more needs to be done before considering when and how facial recognition technology is used for security purposes. No one is aware whether or not the required assessment indicated by Mr Cachia has, in fact, been done or even if work on it has commenced.

This technology invades our privacy in an indiscriminate manner and our fundamental human rights are at risk of being breeched left , right and centre.

Examining in detail the impacts that this technology could have on criminal activity would help us determine whether it makes any sense to sacrifice our privacy (even minutely) in order for the surveillance state to take over and control segments of our life. If the UK experience is anything to go by, there is one logical conclusion: we should stand up to the surveillance state.

The Government should initiate a public consultation at the earliest opportunity and lay all its cards on the table for public scrutiny.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 November 2018