Digital Rights: An addition to Maltese human rights law?

| Published on 14 Mar 2012

Chetcuti Cauchi

Malta has recently announced that a Bill will be presented to the House of Parliament, the intention of which is to introduce and guarantee four new civil rights related to online behaviour, namely:

  1. the right to unrestricted access to the internet,
  2. the right to information and
  3. the right of freedom of expression on the internet and
  4. the right to decide what information to share on the internet.

Acknowledgement of these rights goes in line with a report released by the United Nations last year, which held that internet access is indeed a human right.[1]

This Bill has been described as revolutionary. The Maltese government is set on upholding its reputation as a stable jurisdiction that facilitates the provision of services by increasing the number of companies that are establishing themselves in Malta, notably within the financial services and igaming industries. The announcement of this Bill was made as Malta launched a call for proposals on the setting up of a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network to strengthen further the national ICT and internet infrastructure, which has been ranked amongst the best ten countries in studies on the quality of broadband internet connections around the world, beating countries such as the United States, the UK and Germany.

On a global level, it is an undisputed fact that the internet has become a pivotal tool in today’s world. One may even argue that digital rights have come to constitute a new branch of human rights law. Indeed, the purpose of the Bill is to enshrine these digital rights into the Maltese Constitution. If successful, this would likely place Malta at the forefront of the digital rights frontier.

As a result of the integral part that the internet has come to play in people’s everyday lives, we are now also moving on to consider reliable, secure and unrestricted access to the internet as a basic necessity in today’s society. The internet’s “ubiquitous” character has presented great challenges for legislators to secure such space from criminal activity. The internet’s inter-connectedness is blurring boundaries and is causing regulations to “leak” from one jurisdiction to another, resulting in criminal activity no longer being confined within physical boundaries.

Among Malta’s reactions to this immense growth  one finds a combined effort to boost the competences of the Malta Police Cybercrime Unit and to ensure that individuals are aware of all the risks and dangers that they may face. Measures have been adopted to reinforce cybercrime legislation and various methods have been introduced for identifying and informing the authorities of potential cybercrime activities.

In view of these concerted efforts which Malta has taken, the Malta Communications Authority, Aġenzija Appoġġ and other stakeholders of the industry have launched an information campaign with the aim of raising awareness, particularly among young people, about the risks they may face and about the safe and responsible use of the internet.

Malta’s efforts in this regard have not been restricted to a national level. Maltese MEP, Dr Simon Busuttil, has teamed up with Ms Angelika Niebler, German MEP and chairman of a European People’s Party Working Group on the internet, in an attempt to extend Malta’s initiative to make internet a civil right at a European level.

[1] "Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


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