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New rights aim to reflect digital era

The public is being asked for feedback on the introduction of four digital rights, including the right to internet access, to the Constitution.

A natural progression for a highly digitalised country like Malta

A White Paper, launched yesterday for consultation, proposes to enshrine the right to internet access, the right to access to information online, online freedom of expression and the right to exchange information online.

The move was the “natural progression for a highly digitalised country like Malta,” IT Minister Austin Gatt said when he launched the document.

The proposed rights will be included in the section of the Constitution that deals with the country’s principles.

The Government had first made the suggestion to enshrine these rights in February, in the midst of the controversy about the proposed EU-wide Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement, an international agreement that seeks to tighten copyright protection.

Eventually, Acta was shot down by the European Parliament and shelved.

The former chairman of the Malta Information Technology Agency, Claudio Grech, who is now an election candidate for the Nationalist Party, was one of the consultants appointed by Dr Gatt to prepare the White Paper.

He said this was the “logical step forward” after the use of ICT grew exponentially in Malta over recent years.

Acta, he said, had brought the issues of digital rights and internet access into the spotlight as the internet was a perceived fundamental human right.

Mr Grech said it was being proposed that the State should recognise, promote and safeguard citizens’ right to access to the internet and refrain from introducing laws that unnecessarily impinge on internet access.

Dr Gatt said this was “a strong political statement” on enshrining something that was affecting society so much. The public consultation period closes at the end of November.

Digital rights are a relatively new field in human rights law, with few legislative precedents to look to.

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