The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Where others fear to tread, Malta dives right in

Thursday, 29 November 2018, 12:09 Last update: about 2 years ago

Malta has indeed been pushing the boundaries of this brave new world in which we live, leading the world in newfangled technologies areas such ads cryptocurrencies, blockchain, artificial intelligence and even, who knows, rights for robots one day.

In so many ways, Malta is treading where few dare to tread. But as we tread we must be aware of where we are treading, and tread very carefully indeed.

Yesterday New Zealand joined the growing of countries that are banning Huawei’s 5G operations.  The country yesterday stopped a mobile company from using Huawei equipment in its planned 5G upgrade, saying it posed a ‘significant network security risk’.

As such, the Maltese government’s warm reception of Chinese mobile operator Huawei’s 5G operations is curious – they have partnered up to test out 5G services while other countries’ governments arte banning the private sector from using them.

Huawei, it must be noted, had already been practically blocked out of the US market after six top intelligence chiefs - including the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence - told the US Senate Intelligence Committee that they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Huawei.

Huawei has also been blocked from rolling out Australia's 5G network due to security concerns as the involvement of a company ‘likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government’ simply presented too much of a risk.

If other countries who are serious about their citizens’ privacy are taking such steps, one must wonder why Malta is welcoming the company’s 5G technology with open arms. One should also wonder what assurances, if any, the Maltese has sought from the operator.

None, it would seem.

In the meantime a cohort of international lawmakers is trying to turn up the pressure on Facebook, grilling one of its executives and making a show of founder Mark Zuckerberg's refusal to explain to them why his company failed to protect users' data privacy.

Meanwhile, a rare ‘international grand committee’ of lawmakers from nine countries gathered in London to get answers about Facebook's handling of personal data and made a point of leaving an empty seat with Zuckerberg's placeholder.

Lawmakers from Canada, Ireland, Brazil, Argentina, Singapore, Belgium, France and Latvia joined their British counterparts at the parliamentary select committee hearing — the first such cross-border event in London since 1933.

They want to scrutinise Facebook over its handling of data privacy, most notably involving consultancy Cambridge Analytica's improper use of information from more than 87 million Facebook accounts to manipulate elections.

So MPs from nine nations took part including the EU’s most spied upon nation, by Cambridge Analytica, the UK, but no from the EU’s second most spied upon nation, Malta, was  present for the grilling.

That grilling was, coincidentally, meant to have also heard testimony from Denzil Douglas, the Prime Minister Saint Kitts and Nevis, that other island nation where both Malta’s passports selling concessionaires Henley & Partners and Cambridge Analytica have worked their figurative magic.

But, sadly, there was no Maltese MP present for that meeting.  Maltese citizens and their representatives should really be taking an interest in how its citizens’ data has been harvested by the pair of companies.  Although ‘only’ 6,011 Maltese citizens had their data harvested by the controversial firm, Malta’s per capita proportion makes it the most ‘harvested’ country in the European Union after the United Kingdom.

The Maltese government has denied any sort of involvement with the firm, but it still stands to be determined why the company had taken such an interest in tiny Malta, so much so that close to one in 70 Maltese Facebook users are reported by the European Commission to have had their data mined and harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

Such campaigns are not conducted on a whim, there is always rhyme and reason behind them. And while the details of 6,000-odd people may not seem like a mountain of data, it is significant for a country of this size, as it is far more than enough of a sample size to carry out psychological electioneering profiling, and who knows what else.

This in itself is utterly shocking and warrants a domestic investigation, at the very least, no one appears ready to lift a finger to force one.

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