We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 2020

Malta: b’politika diżonesta dwar il-klima

Stimi dwar kemm jista’ jogħla l-livell tal-baħar, b’mod globali kif ukoll fl-Ewropa, ivarjaw skond kif wieħed iqis ir-rata tad-dewbien tas-silġ akkumulat fil-poli kif ukoll fi Greenland. Il-mod kif nilqgħu għall-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju ukoll għandu impatt fuq dawn l-istimi. Dawn l-istimi fil-fatt ivarjaw minn żieda ta’ 34 ċentimetru sa żieda ta’ 172 ċentimetru sa tmiem dan is-seklu. Imma jekk l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju jkunu indirizzati b’politika iffukata u effettiva, din iż-żieda tista’ tkun waħda iżgħar.

Minkejja dan, ħadd ma qiegħed f’posizzjoni li jantiċpa jekk din iż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar tkunx waħda gradwali inkella jekk din isseħħx f’daqqa. Hemm iżda l-biża’ li l-gravità tas-sitwazzjoni tista’ taċċellera avolja il-jekk u l-meta ħadd ma jaf. Din hi xi ħaga ġdida għal kulħadd!

Kull żieda fil-livell tal-baħar, kemm jekk isseħħ b’mod gradwali kif ukoll jekk isseħħ f’daqqa, ikollha impatt fuq il-kosta u b’mod partikolari fuq l-infrastruttura żviluppata tul iż-żmien. Din l-infrastruttura hi primarjament waħda turistika imma tinkludi ukoll żvilupp residenzjali li xi drabi jasal sax-xifer, sal-baħar: kemm bl-approvazzjoni tal-awtoritajiet u anke xi minndaqqiet mingħajrha!

Il-ħsara potenzjali għall-infrastruttura kostali hi kwistjoni li għandha tħassibna. Din diġà sofriet ħsarat diversi minħabba il-maltemp qalil li żied fil-frekwenza u l-intensità tul dawn l-aħħar snin. L-impatt ta’ żieda fil-livell tal-baħar bla dubju ser joħloq tibdil kbir tul il-kosta kollha tal-gżejjer Maltin. L-istorja tgħallimna. Nhar it-Tnejn 28 ta’ Diċembru 1908 fil-5.20 ta’ fil-għodu Messina fi Sqallija ġarrbet wieħed mill-iktar terrimoti qliel li qatt kien hawn fl-Ewropa, b’qawwa mkejla ta’ 7.5 fuq l-iskala Richter. Immedjatament, inħoloq tsunami b’mewġ għoli sa 9 metri. Madwar sagħtejn wara, fit-7.45 ta’ fil-għodu dan it-tsunami, ftit immansat, wasal fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Diversi gazzetti Maltin ta’ dak iż-żmien irrappurtaw li l-lokalitajiet mal-kosta viċin il-livell tal-baħar kienu mgħarrqa fl-ilma mit-7.45 ta’ fil-għodu għax b’effett taz-tsunami l-baħar tela’ l-art. Dan baqa’ sal-4.00 ta’ waranofsinnhar meta l-baħar reġa’ ikkalma u rritorna lejn il-livelli normali tiegħu! Herbert Ganado, f’l-ewwel volum ta’ Rajt Malta Tinbidel jgħid li residenzi u ħwienet tul il-kosta ta’ tas-Sliema, l-iMsida u tal-Pietà kienu mgħarrqa f’tebqa’ t’għajn għax daħlilhom kwantità ta’ ilma fis-sular terran. Bħala medja l-baħar għola madwar erba’ piedi : 1.20 metri. Fil-Port il-Kbir, imma, ma ġara xejn għax kien imħares mill-breakwater, li l-bini tiegħu kien ġie ffinalizzat madwar sentejn qabel, fis-sena 1906.

Żieda fil-livell tal-baħar bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima tkun tfisser repetizzjoni tal-impatti taz-tsunami tal-1908 mifruxa iktar u fuq bażi permanenti. Il-lokalitajiet Maltin tul il-kosta li qegħdin viċin tal-livell tal-baħar jispiċċaw b’mod permanenti fl-ilma baħar. Dan ikun jinkludi r-ramliet kollha u żoni kummerċjali u residenzjali fl-Għadira, ix-Xemxija, is-Salini, l-Gzira, l-iMsida, tas-Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Tal-Pietà, il-Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuġa, ix-Xlendi, u Marsalforn. L-impatti jistgħu jinħassu iktar il-ġewwa mill-kosta ukoll, f’lokalitajiet li huma f’livell tal-baħar bħal Ħal-Qormi u allura jeffettwa l-inħawi kollha mix-xatt tal-Marsa sa Ħal-Qormi b’dik li hi magħrufa bħala l-Marsa tal-Inġliżi b’kollox. Dan jeffettwa ukoll l-investiment fl-infrastruttura sportiva.

Li jogħla l-livell tal-baħar issa hu inevitabbli. Imma b’ħidma bil-għaqal għad hemm ċans li nnaqqsu kemm dan jogħla. Dan jista’ jseħħ kemm-il darba nieħdu passi biex innaqqsu l-emmissjonijiet tal-karbonju u allura inkunu qed nagħtu kontribut biex iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali tkun l-inqas possibli.

Fis-summit ta’ Pariġi, Malta, flimkien mal-bqija tal-pajjiżi, wegħdet li tieħu azzjoni konkreta biex ikun possibli li jonqsu l-impatti fuq il-klima. Però anke jekk il-wegħdiet kollha li saru f’Pariġi jkunu onorati, hu ċar li għadna l-bogħod ħafna milli nilħqu l-mira miftehma li ma naqbżux iż-żieda ta’ żewġ gradi Celsius fit-temperatura. Hu meħtieġ ħafna iktar mingħand kulħadd. Hemm bżonn mhux biss iktar azzjoni konkreta imma ukoll politika koerenti u konsistenti.

Il-politika ta’ Malta dwar il-klima, imma, hi waħda diżonesta. Nuru wiċċ b’ieħor kontinwament. Min-naħa l-waħda l-Gvern Malti jwiegħed li jaġixxi biex ikun possibli li nindirizzaw il-klima. Imma fl-istess ħin jibqa’ għaddej bi proġetti infrastrutturali li jinkoraġixxu iktar karozzi fit-toroq u allura iktar emissjonijiet. L-emissjonijiet tal-karozzi jikkompetu ma dawk li joriġinaw mill-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku.

Hemm bżonn li ndaħħlu ftit sens u konsistenza fil-politika ta’ Malta dwar il-klima. Għax sakemm nibqgħu inkonsitenti kullma qed nagħmlu hu li qed ngħinu biex ikompli jitħaffar il-qabar tagħna.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Mejju 2020

Malta: a double-faced climate change policy

Estimates for sea-level rise, both globally as well as in Europe, vary depending on the assumptions made as to the rate at which ice at the polar caps and Greenland is melting.

The carbon emission-mitigation policy scenario also has a direct bearing on these estimates. These estimates range between a 34- and 172-centimetres potential sea-level rise by the end of the current century. Lower emissions together with a focused mitigation policy may restrict sea-level rise towards the lower end of the range.

However, notwithstanding, no one is in a position to predict as to whether such a sea-level rise will be gradual or sudden. It is however feared that once a tipping point is reached changes may occur at a much faster pace than anticipated. We all are on a learning curve on this!

Any sea-level rise, gradual or sudden, will have an impact on our coastline and in particular on the infrastructure developed over the years along the coast. This infrastructure is primarily of a touristic nature but it also includes residential development at times built along the water’s edge with or without the acquiescence of the planning authorities.

There is nothing to worry about if the sea-level rise wipes out abusive development. When one considers the potential impact on coastal infrastructure that is, however, a different kettle of fish.

The coastal infrastructure is already battered by the ever-frequent storms. The impact of a sea-level rise will without any doubt redraw the coastal map of the Maltese islands.

Let us have a look at our history books. At 5.20am of Monday 28 December 1908, Messina in neighbouring Sicily experienced one of the most powerful earthquakes to ever hit Europe, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. Immediately, a tsunami generating waves as high as 9 metres was unleashed. Just over two hours later, at 7.45am, the tsunami, slightly tamed, reached the Maltese Islands.

Various local newspapers of the time reported that low-lying areas were flooded from 7.45am until around 4.00pm when the sea receded back to its “normal level”. Herbert Ganado, in his Rajt Malta Tinbidel (Volume 1, page 37) states that residences and shops along the coast in Sliema, Msida, and Pietà were suddenly flooded. The average sea-level rise was 1.20 metres. The Grand Harbour was spared as it was protected by the breakwater, whose construction had been finalised a couple of years earlier.

A sea-level rise as a result of climate change would repeat the Malta impacts of the 1908 tsunami on a permanent basis. The low-lying parts of the Maltese coastline would then be permanently underwater. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards the inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

Sea-level rise is inevitable. It is only its extent which can be reduced. This can happen if we take appropriate action which reduces carbon emissions and hence contributes to nudging the temperature increase towards the least possible.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously it proceeds with road infrastructural projects which encourage cars on our roads. Car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change. Is it not about time that we bring our own house in order? We are digging our own grave with a double-faced climate policy.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 May 2020

Malta deserves better

Reading through the reports on the testimony of Melvin Theuma – who turned state evidence in the criminal investigation on Daphne Caruana Galzia’s assassination – all of us feel shocked and betrayed.

We are shocked by the ruthlessness displayed and we feel betrayed by Joseph Muscat, who put his faith in a bunch of criminals. Malta certainly deserves better – much better, in fact.

As names of various individuals and their actions were being mentioned in the magistrate’s hall, one lingering question is whether these individuals were aware of how their specific action fitted into the general jigsaw puzzle. In addition, what did the boss know about what was going on around him? Was he kept in the dark by his underlings, or was he given discreet briefings?

As yet there is no answer:suspicions are just suspicions. They will, however, linger on until interrogation marks are resolved. In time, we may get to know more, especially when all the rats have fled the sinking ship.

This nation will not rest until all is known, because our trust has been betrayed.

The facts as to who commissioned the assassination and who carried it out are becoming clearer. It is also being established without a shadow of a doubt that the interrogation rooms at Police Headquarters would have more from the functions of a sieve that the secure place one would expect them to be.

In his testimony, Melvin Theuma shocked quite a few people when he stated that he was aware of the planned police raid at the Marsa potato shed days before it was actually carried out. In fact, he stated that he was instructed by the master-mind to alert those who carried out the assassination to this important matter. He was even aware when Vincent Muscat – il-Koħħu – started spilling the beans.

I find it hard to believe that the police tried to sabotage their own investigations. There were others who may have had an interest in sabotaging these investigations from the sidelines. Most probably they are still around, with a visible silhouette that inconclusively indicates their identity.

Likewise, what is the purpose of tapping phones if the person under observation is alerted? Yorgen Fenech specifically stated in the witness box on Thursday that he was alerted by Keith Schembri to the fact that his electronic communications were being monitored.

This is the background which compelled a helpless Cabinet to demand an answer as to why Keith Schembri, the former Chief of Staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, was not properly investigated. A proper interrogation of Mr Schembri would undoubtedly lead to results if it can be done without Joseph Muscat breathing down the necks of the police force. This is an important reason why Joseph Muscat should resign with immediate effect: to ensure that it is not in any way possible for him to protect his friend Keith Schembri.

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should, however, be aware that they have directly contributed to the development of this crisis, both individually as well as collectively as the Cabinet, because they failed to take decisive action regarding the publication of the Panama Papers. Their failure to act at that point in time was a clear signal that anything goes.

The law should apply to everyone. This, however, is not the case because so far Keith Schembri has been lurking in the shadows for far too long. In a national address last Tuesday, President George Vella implored us to be rational and not emotional in this very difficult time. Malta deserves better. It is what we should strive for.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 December 2019

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.

Tal-biża’!

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

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

Ftit ħsibijiet wara t-traġedja f’Ġenova

Wara l-kollass tal-pont f’Ġenova hemm numru ta’ lezzjonijiet, anke għalina, mijiet ta’ kilometri ‘l bogħod mill-pont Morandi.

Minkejja li l-investigazzjonijiet uffiċjali dwar l-għaliex seħħ dan il-kollass tal-pont għadhom bil-kemm bdew, il-media Taljana diġá qed tiddiskuti dak li ġara fid-dettall. Il-pontijiet kollha fl-Italja qegħdin taħt il-lenti, b’mod partikolari dawk li hu magħruf li m’humiex f’kundizzjoni tajba u li allura jistgħu, f’qasir żmien jikkollassaw huma ukoll. Dan jassumi sinifikat ikbar meta wieħed iqis li f’dawn l-aħħar ħames snin, fl-Italja, diġa ikkollassaw seba’ pontijiet oħra, u qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Bla dubju, fost il-lezzjonijiet ewlenin, jeħtieġ nifhmu l-ħtieġa li nieħdu ħsieb u nikkuraw b’mod adegwat il-proġetti pubbliċi. Għax anke f’Malta, wara li l-proġetti pubbliċi jkunu saru, ħafna drabi ftit nagħtu kas tagħhom. Ħarsa ftit lejn il-flyover li tifforma parti mill-bypass tal-Marsa/Ħal-Qormi kif inhi illum, tkun biżżejjed, avolja kif ħabbret Infrastruttura Malta nhar il-Ġimgħa ma hemm l-ebda ħsara strutturali. Huwa biss issa li tħabbar li ser jibda programm ta’ manutenzjoni, issa li n-nies, wara l-istraġi ta’ Ġenova, bdiet tistaqsi l-mistoqsijiet. Forsi, min jaf, mil-lum il-quddiem jibda jkollna skeda regolari ta’ manutenzjoni tal-proġetti pubbliċi kollha. Forsi xi darba l-mini ta’ Santa Venera ma jibqgħux iqattru.

Hemm ukoll x’jingħad dwar il-governanza tajba fil-proġetti pubbliċi.

Deċiżjoni riċenti tal-bord li jirrevedi l-kuntratti pubblici (Public Contracts Review Board) hi ta’ tħassib kbir. L-għoti tal-kuntratt għall-bini u t-tkomplija taċ-Ċentru tas-Saħħa f’Raħal Ġdid ġie mwaqqaf wara li Public Contracts Review Board esprima dubji serji fuq kif tmexxew il-proċeduri tal-evalwazzjoni tal-offerti. Fil-fatt ġie identifikat li żewġ professjonisti (inġinier u Perit) kienu konsulenti kemm tal-Fondazzjoni tas-Servizzi Mediċi tal-Ministeru tas-Saħħa kif ukoll ta’ tnejn minn dawk li tefgħu l-offerti. Fil-fehma tiegħi huwa diffiċli ferm biex nifhem kif ħadd mill-Fondazzjoni għas-Servizzi Mediċi ma nduna b’dan il-konflitt ta’ interess. Kont nistenna xi ħaġa aħjar mill-Fondazzjoni, għax jidher li ftit li xejn qed jagħtu importanza lill-ħtieġa ta’ governanza tajba fil-ħidma tal-fondazzjoni.

Issa li l-Public Contracts Review Board ħa deċiżjoni nistenna li l-korpi professjonali li jirregolaw l-inginiera u l-periti jeżaminaw sewwa l-kaz biex jaraw x’passi għandhom jieħdu f’dak li hu ksur ta’ etika professjonali bażika.

Il-kontroll adegwat tal-materjali li jintużaw fuq is-sit ta’ kostruzzjoni hi materja oħra ta’ importanza fundamentali. Din mill-ewwel tfakkarni fl-investigazzjoni li saret dwar il-kwalitá tal-konkos użat fl-isptar Mater Dei. Anke hawn kienet responsabbli l-Fondazzjoni għas-Servizzi Mediċi. Dwar dan ma kienx hemm biss l-inkjesta li saret taħt it-tmexxija tal-Imħallef irtirat Philip Sciberras imma ukoll rapport tal-Awditur Ġenerali fuq talba tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi. Dan ir-rapport kien konkluż u ippubblikat f’Mejju li għadda.

Niftakru li l-Awditur Ġenerali fir-rapport tiegħu kien emfasizza li rriżultalu li kien hemm nuqqas kbir ta’ dokumentazzjoni dwar kull stadju tal-proġett (significant lack of documentation with respect to all stages of the project). Dan wassal lill-istess Awditur Ġenerali biex jikkonkludi li “l-inkapaċita tal-Fondazzjoni li tipprovdi l-informazzjoni bażika dwar proġett ta’ dan il-kobor ifisser falliment istituzzjonali u negliġenza grassa fl-amministrazzjoni ta’ fondi pubbliċi” (the Foundation’s inability to provide basic information relating to a project of this magnitude represents an institutional failure and gross negligence in the administration of public funds).

Min-naħa l-oħra, anke l-inkjesta immexxija mill-Imħallef irtirat Philip Sciberras identifikat nuqqasijiet kbar li dwarhom irrakkomandat li jittieħdu passi.

In partikolari qed nara quddiemi l-konklużjoni numru 5 tar-rapport Sciberras li tgħid li “in-nuqqasijiet gravi li nkixfu bir-rapporti tekniċi tal-lum jindikaw li l-konkos dgħajjef li nstab f’kull parti tas-sit hu riżultat intenzjonat ta’ azzjonijiet bi skop ta’ frodi. Il-Bord ifforma l-impressjoni ċara li l-ġrajjet li wasslu għal dan ma kienux riżultat ta’ koinċidenza, lanqas ma kienu providenzjali, imma warajhom kien hemm id moħbija li tagħti direzzjoni.” (the widespread failings uncovered by the present day technical reports indicate that the pervasive weak concrete found in the site is a result of intended fraudulent actions. Moreover the Board is left with a distinct impression that events as they transpired were not the fruit of coincidence or providence but seem to indicate an element of concertation and direction.)

Ma tantx jidher li sar wisq dwar dawn ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet. X’qed nistennew? Li jaqa’ x’imkien?

Hemm tagħlim waħda bażika minn Ġenova: in-nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba tista’ twassal ukoll għall-imwiet.

Ippubblikat f’Illum : 19 t’Awwissu 2018

Lessons from the Genova bridge collapse

The collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genova should lead to a number of lessons which have an application hundreds of kilometres away from Genova.

Notwithstanding the fact that the official investigations into the bridge collapse have barely commenced, the media in Italy is discussing the possible causes of the collapse and whether there are any other bridges on the Italian mainland that may shortly have a similar fate. The fact that there have been some seven other bridge collapses in Italy during the past five years adds more fuel to this debate.

Among the many lessons to be learnt is the need to ensure adequate maintenance of public structures at all times. How does Malta score? Not very well, I would say. Have a look at the bridge forming part of the Marsa/Qormi flyover. It does not send out a good message even if, as stated by Infrastructure Malta on Friday, the flyover is structurally safe. The authorities in Malta have only announced the commencement of a maintenance programme for this bridge when questions began being asked as a result of the Genova tragedy.

Hopefully we will henceforth have regular maintenance schedules of all public structures and,  maybe, someday the dripping Santa Venera tunnels will be seen to permanently!

What about good governance in tenders for public projects? A recent decision by the Public Contracts Review Board is cause for concern. The award of the contract for the building and finishing of a health centre in Paola was halted by this Board after serious doubts regarding the evaluation procedure were raised. In fact, two professionals (an engineer and an architect) were identified as being simultaneously advisors of the Health Ministry’s Foundation for Medical Services as well as two of the three tenderers. It is, in my opinion, very difficult to understand how nobody at the Foundation for Medical Services was aware of this glaring conflict of interest. Good governance is apparently not the Foundation’s strong point.

Now that the Public Contracts Review Board has decided the case, I would expect that the professional bodies regulating the professionals involved take appropriate action on what is clearly a very serious breach of professional ethics.

Adequate quality control of materials used on site is another fundamental issue. The investigations regarding the quality of concrete used in the construction of the Mater Dei Hospital project comes to mind. The Foundation for Medical Services was also responsible for this project.

This issue has been dealt with not only by an inquiry led by retired judge Philip Sciberras but also by a report drawn up by the Auditor General at the request of the Finance Minister, which was concluded and published last May.

We may remember that, in the Auditor General’s report, it was emphasised that he found a “significant lack of documentation with respect to all stages of the project”. This led the Auditor General to conclude that “the Foundation’s inability to provide basic information relating to a project of this magnitude represents an institutional failure and gross negligence in the administration of public funds”.

On the other hand, the inquiry led by retired judge Philip Sciberras also identified various deficiencies in respect of which it recommended that action be taken.

I point in particular to conclusion No. 5 of the Sciberras report which states that : “the widespread failings uncovered by the present day technical reports indicates that the pervasive weak concrete found in the site is a result of intended fraudulent actions. Moreover, the Board is left with a distinct impression that events as they transpired were not the fruit of coincidence or providence but seem to indicate an element of concertation and direction.”

Apparently, not much has been done to date regarding the  implementation of the recommendations of these reports. Shall we wait for our own bridge collapse before action?

There is one basic lesson to be learnt from the Genova tragedy: a lack of good governance is a potential killer.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 August 2018