Inħarsu l-art agrikola: kollha

Tul is-snin il-Gvern dejjem kien fuq quddiem fil-ħidma biex tinqered il-biedja. Kontinwament il-Gvern jagħmilha iktar faċli biex art agrikola tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Huwa l-Gvern li kontinwament jidentifika art agrikola tajba għal toroq ġodda (mhux meħtieġa) inkella biex jestendi toroq eżistenti.

Il-White Paper li ippubblika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura, intitolata Riforma fil-Qasam tar-Raba’  tfittex li tirregola l-assalt tas-settur privat fuq l-art agrikola. Imma ma issemmi xejn dwar l-assalt li għaddej mis-settur pubbliku: dak għall-Gvern hu aċċettabbli! Imma m’għandux ikun għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ li tkun imħarsa.

Awtoritajiet eżistenti, bħall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, diġa għandhom il-poteri bil-liġi biex jieħdu passi u ma jħallux l-art agrikola tinbidel f’art għall-picnics jew għall-barbeques! Imma tul is-snin din l-awtorità ma għamlet xejn minn dan. Għalqet għajnejha.

Id-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura imbagħad, dejjem jispiċċa jiddefendi id-deċiżjonijiet tal-Gvern favur il-qerda tar-raba’ għal toroq inutli. Is-Central Link hi waħda mill-aħħar eżempji li miegħu aħna familjari. Hemmhekk raba’ saqwi f’Ħ’Attard inqerdet fl-interess tal-karozzi. L-għixien ta’ numru ta’ bdiewa inqered. L-anqas ħoss mill-awtoritajiet fid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura ma nstema’ biex jiddefendu lill-bdiewa li laqqtuha.

B’dawn it-tip ta’ awtoritajiet li mhux kapaċi jaħdmu, x’sens hemm fil-ħolqien ta’ iktar awtoritajiet bħalhom? Mhux aħjar li jitneħħew is-sriep mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u mid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura u flokhom ikunu ngaġġati persuni kwalifikati u motivati biex jaħdmu? Għax jekk l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u d-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura jitħallew jaħdmu sewwa, bi tmexxija tajba u kapaċi, parti mdaqqsa mill-kontenut tal-White Paper ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa għalih!

Lejn l-aħħar tas-sena 2021 l-Imħallef Wenzu Mintoff, f’deċiżjoni tiegħu dwar applikazzjoni kostituzzjonali fuq raba’ fil-Qrendi kien emfasizza li l-valur realistiku tar-raba’ għandu jkun rifless ta’ dak li l-istess raba’ tista’ tipproduċi. Dan hu punt li l-White Paper tibni fuqu meta titkellem dwar il-valur esaġerat li r-raba’ qed jinbiegħ jew jiġi stmat kif ukoll dwar kif għandha tkun ikkalkulata l-valur tal-qbiela. Il-White Paper fil-fatt tipproponi li l-qbiela għandhom ikunu 1.5 fil-mija tal-valur realistiku tar-raba’. Għad irridu naraw, iżda, kemm dan kollu ser jiflaħ għall-battalji legali li inevitabilment ser ifaqqsu da parti ta’ min ma jridx din ir-regolamentazzjoni.

Punt interessanti li joħrog mill-White Paper hi l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa li hu propost li titħallas fuq ir-raba’ li ma tibqax tintuża għal skop agrikolu. Din il-proposta hi simili għall-proposti tal-partit tiegħi dwar taxxa fuq propjetajet vojta liema proposti saru f’diversi manifesti elettorali tul is-snin.  

Safejn niftakar, din hi l-ewwel darba li l-Partit Laburista qed jipproponi li jagħmel użu mit-tassazzjoni bħala għodda biex jilħaq oġġettiv politiku: f’dan il-każ il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Ma naħsibx li din il-proposta partikolari ser timmaterjalizza u dan minħabba li l-Partit Laburista kontinwament jitkellem b’ċerta qawwa kontra l-użu tat-tassazzjoni bħala strument politiku fi kwalunkwe forma. Imma l-fatt li l-proposta qed issir, minnu nnifsu hu pass tajjeb.

Il-proposti fil-White Paper fuq ir-riforma meħtieġa dwar ir-raba’ huma l-ewwel pass lejn diskussjoni serja u matura. Imma għadhom il-bogħod  minn dak li hu meħtieġ.  

L-ewwel pass għandu jsir biex ikun stabilit element ta’ rieda tajba. B’dan il-ħsieb nistieden lill-Gvern biex jippreżenta mozzjoni fil-Parlament biex iħassar l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni approvat mill-Parlament fl-2006 u li permezz tiegħu eluf ta’ metri kwadri ta’ raba’ spiċċaw tajba biex jinbnew. Naħseb li l-Ministru tal-Agrikultura tal-lum, Anton Refalo, għandu l-kredibilità biex jagħmel dan il-pass. Hu wieħed mill-ftit Membri Parlamentari li għadhom fil-Kamra u li fl-2006 kienu ivvutaw kontra li din l-art tingħata għal-iżvilupp. Għamel dan flimkien ma sħabu tal-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista ta’ dakinnhar!

Bħala t-tieni pass il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar għall-Iżvilupp tal-Art jista jħaffef ftit il-pass li bih għandhom ikunu reveduti r-regoli dwar id-diżinn għall-iżvilupp rurali (Rural Design Guidelines). Forsi, ma tafx kif, jingħalqu darba għal dejjem it-toqob fir-regoli, li bihom qed ikun imħeġġeg l-iżvilupp fil-kampanja.

Imbagħad, kieku dan kellu jsir, il-Gvern ikun kredibbli fil-proposti li qed jagħmel dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ il-ħarsien mingħandna. Dan hu meħtieġ dejjem, mhux biss meta jkun politikament konvenjenti.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 t’Ottubru 2022

Protecting agricultural land: all of it

Over the years government has been actively at the forefront in the assault on agricultural land. It continuously makes it easier for agricultural land to be developed. It also takes up good quality agricultural land in order to develop new (and many times unnecessary) roads or else to extend existing ones.

The White Paper published earlier this week by the Ministry for Agriculture, entitled Agricultural Land Reform seeks to control the private sector assault on agricultural land. By omission, the assault being carried out by the public sector is being deemed acceptable!

Existing authorities like the Planning Authority already have the legal powers to stop agricultural land being transformed into picnic or barbeque areas. Yet it has done nothing to stop this over the years.

The Department of Agriculture always ends up defending the uptake of good agricultural land by Government for unnecessary roads. The Central Link is one of the latest examples as a result of which naturally irrigated agricultural land at Attard was destroyed in order to make way for more cars. The livelihood of a number of full-time farmers was destroyed. Not even a whimper from the authorities at the Department of Agriculture was heard.

Faced with existing authorities which are not functioning properly what sense does it make to create more authorities, as proposed by the agricultural reform White Paper? Would it not be better to remove the snakes from the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture and replace them with suitably qualified and motivated personnel? If the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture are allowed to function properly, with suitable leadership and expertise, most of the contents of the White Paper would not even be required!

Towards the end of 2021 Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, in his decision on a constitutional application relative to agricultural land at Qrendi had emphasised that the realistic value of agricultural land ought to be a reflection of what that agricultural land can produce. This is a point validly taken up by the White Paper when discussing the value currently being attached to agricultural holdings. The White Paper also proposes that the rental value of agricultural holdings should be determined at 1.5 per cent of their realistic value.  It remains to be seen whether and to what extent these limitations on the determination of value and rental value will be able to withstand the legal assault which will inevitably follow once the White paper proposal in this respect is implemented.

An interesting point made by the White Paper is to introduce a tax on agricultural land which is not being used for agricultural purposes! This is similar to the proposals which my party repeatedly brought forward relative to taxes on vacant dwellings!

This is the first time, as far as I can recollect, that the Labour Party is proposing the utilisation of taxation as a tool to attain a political objective: the protection of agricultural land. I do not however think that this proposal will materialise as the Labour Party has been vociferous over the years against the use of taxation as a political instrument in any form or shape. However, it is positive that the proposal is being tabled.

The proposals in the White Paper on agricultural reform are definitely a first step towards a mature debate. They are however very far from what is required to protect agricultural land.

The first step should be to establish an element of good faith, which is currently inexistent. In this line of thought I would invite government to present a motion in Parliament to cancel the rationalisation exercise approved by Parliament in 2006 as a result of which thousands of square metres of agricultural land all over the islands were defined as being suitable for development. I believe that the current Minister for Agricultural, Anton Refalo, has the credibility to do it. He is in fact one of the few remaining Members of Parliament who way back in 2006 had voted against adopting the rationalisation exercise, together with the rest of the then Labour Party Parliamentary Group!

As a second step the Minister for Land Use Planning could accelerate the revision of the Rural Design Guidelines, thereby closing the loopholes which continuously encourage the urbanisation of the countryside.

Only then, maybe, can government be credible in its proposals to protect agricultural land. All agricultural land needs our protection. This is required all of the time, not only when it is politically convenient.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 October 2022

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

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

Local Councils, cleaning the financial mess

localcouncils

 

The National Audit Office, last December, published an unprecedented  report entitled “Report by the Auditor General on the workings of Local Government”. The 294 page document examines the financial statements pertaining to financial year 2013 and lists various shortcomings in the financial administration of local government.

During 2013, thirty seven of the local councils registered a deficit, whilst some councils did not follow the required procurement procedures. Some of these faults have their root cause in the fact that local councillors  are not trained adequately to handle their responsibilities. They require training, both before they contest an election  as well as after the election itself. They need to be made more aware of their responsibilities. Training of our local councillors (and more so mayors) is undoubtedly not an easy task. It is, in fact, quite a challenge.

There were also a number of policy decisions which, over the years, have not made matters any easier. Understandably, the Local Government Auditors do not examine the matter in any depth, as it falls outside their brief.

A case in point is the Public Private Partnership launched through Memo 45/2010 issued by the Department of Local Government on 22 March 2010. This initiative started off on a positive note. Government then decided  to attend to the issue of dilapidated roads, thereby tackling one of the major complaints in all localities.

Various funds were made available to local councils for this purpose. Additionally part of  the statutory allocation received by local councils annually was ring-fenced such that it was only usable for road works. These funds, according to Parliamentary Question 30314, replied to by the then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi on 21 November  2011, amounted to a total of €15 million and were made available to the  47 local councils which had expressed their interest and submitted the required application.

The problem however, was that Government only funded  30% of the expenses directly. The remaining 70 per cent of the required funds had to be disbursed by local councils from their own resources. These included savings made from road maintenance costs, which were justifiably rerouted to fund the resurfacing exercise.

The bottom line however, was that what should have been a central government responsibility in its entirety was shifted onto local councils, with central government only  footing 30 per cent of the bill when it should have forked out the remaining 70 too. Whilst at face value, a 30 per cent subvention may seem substantial, in reality, it was not.  Local councils were desperate to improve the state of the roads in their localities and most of them did not think twice about accepting government’s offer to carry out substantial road works in 2010 and 2011 and spreading the payment of their bills over 8 years, in line, with what was provided for in Memo 45/2010. It is this state of affairs that has led to the financial mess that a number of local councils find themselves in currently.  In fact, the National Audit Office reports that:  “during the 2013 financial year, 37 local councils registered a deficit.”

The point to be made is: is it ethical to place local councils in this position, such that councillors in 47 localities made budgetary commitments of local council finances for a period of 8 years? Councillors elected after 2011 in these 47 localities still had their statutory responsibilities but the financial resources  enabling them to honour their responsibilities were severely depleted. This is  governance at its worst, made worse only by the fact that it was officially sanctioned by the government of the day.

Local councils have very little resources to work with.  The minute budgetary increase voted by Parliament for the current financial year is obviously welcome, but in no way does it compensate for the exponential increase in costs incurred by local councils throughout the past years.

Its fine to insist that local ouncils should ensure that those providing them with services deal properly with their employees. However, to be in a better position to ensure that contractors utilising labour subject to precarious employment conditions are not engaged by local councils it stands to reason that local councils must be able to offer attractive rates of pay.  Otherwise, it will be more of the same procurement exercises, leading to the acceptance of the cheapest bidder.  The cheapest bidder, more often than not, is able to submit the lowest  bid due to its low labour costs.

Local councils have very clear and specific responsibilities. They can only shoulder them if councillors are properly trained and the councils adequately funded.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 February 2015