MALTA: Jurisdiction lowest-scoring in Europe for state of data governance.

As published on theshiftnews.com, Saturday 3 December, 2022.

A new tool that aims to measure the state of data around the world has found that Malta is the country with the lowest score out of 21 European countries surveyed, with a score of 36.5 out of 100.

According to the results of The Global Data Barometer, the highest-scoring European country was Estonia, with a score of 67, and Europe was the best-performing region globally, although it scored 51 overall.

The Global Data Barometer is a new study that tries to assess the state of data in 109 countries to create a new global benchmark that looks at four key data areas. These are governance, capability, availability, and the use and impact of data for the public good.

Governance involves ensuring that data collection and sharing are governed by legitimate public rules that respect fundamental rights. Capabilities describe the resources and opportunities that support data collection, management, sharing, and use.

Availability surveys the presence, openness, and key features of selected datasets to understand how each country is making key datasets accessible. The use and impart pillar looks for evidence of cases where data is used and explores which stakeholder groups use data in each country.

In the key area of governance, which includes elements such as data management, data protection, data openness and sharing, Malta scored 45.8 out of 100. For capability, the score drops slightly to 44.8. The scores, however, plummeted to 27 for availability and 18 for use and impact.

This result appears to be in line with the observations made by international bodies that have recently expressed their concerns on freedom of expression and information in Malta and have offered recommendations to bring law and practice in line with international standards.

These include The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

The Shift alone is currently battling over 40 government ministries and agencies that are refusing to abide by the decision of the Data Protection Commissioner to release the information, taking the cases to the Appeals Tribunal. So far, Chair Anna Mallia has thrown out 25 of those cases.

However, the government entities are now filing second appeals, this time in court, where The Shift is facing another 17 cases (so far) before Judge Wenzu Mintoff. The government is appealing the decisions of its bodies – twice – imposing a substantial financial burden on a small newsroom to deny information in the public interest.

The scope of these appeals seems intended not to win but to exhaust The Shift’s time and resources while also sending a clear signal to other newsrooms that the Maltese government will challenge their attempts to obtain information under the country’s FOI law.

The Global Data Barometer found that the countries in the European regional cluster perform higher than the global average, but the report notes that there is still room for improvement. The region scores particularly well on the existence of data protection frameworks, thanks in part to mandatory EU data protection rules and the strengthened General Data Protection Regulation of 2016, which came into force in all EU countries in May 2018.

However, the report found that in many countries in the European region, beneficial ownership data is still not available and where it is available, it is usually not available for free, under open licenses or in machine-readable formats. Company Information is available in more countries but is not free of charge in many of them.

Last week, the Malta Business Registry’s Register of Beneficial Owners was abruptly removed from the MBR’s website following the ECJ ruling invalidating public access to UBO registers. A decision that activists said removed a fundamental tool in the fight against kleptocracy and the abuse of shell companies.

Data for the Global Data Barometer was collected from May 2021 until late 2021, where fieldwork was undertaken in 109 countries and managed through a network of regional hubs. An expert researcher for each country completed an in-depth survey with responses going through regional and global reviews. Preliminary data was shared with thematic partners for additional validation, with responses cross-checked, outliers reviewed, and final validation checks carried out by the Barometer team.

Access Info Europe acted as a regional hub for the European countries assessed. The same organisation is also waiting for a decision before the Maltese Courts of Appeal set for January 2023.

On 14 September 2022, the Court of Appeal heard a challenge brought by the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security against a March 2022 decision of the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal that all EU citizens should have an equal right to submit an “access to information” request in Malta.

The case goes back to an August 2019 request submitted by an Italian citizen working for Access Info, who sought information from Malta’s Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security related to the return of migrants. The Ministry initially refused to register the request as she was not an “eligible person” for not meeting the dual conditions of being a citizen of and resident in Malta for at least five years.

The full Global Data Barometer report and country-specific data can be found here.

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