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Civil servants receive unsolicited e-mails with Labour propaganda

Investigation can only be launched if a formal complaint is lodged

Some civil servants have received unsolicited e-mails containing Labour Party propaganda in breach of the election campaign guidelines issued by the data protection watchdog, Times of Malta has learnt.

Individuals who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity, however, admitted they were reluctant to report the abuse fearing a political backlash at work.

Dated between March 23 and May 8, when the campaign was already a week old, the e-mails were purportedly sent by Labour leader Joseph Muscat, party spokesman Nigel Vella and president Daniel Micallef.

In all cases, the sender's domain name was @plmalta.com.

Concerns of possible unauthorised access to the government’s e-mail database were raised in view of the fact that none of the recipients, who work in a ministry’s directorate, had ever given consent or subscribed to the party’s mailing list.

We cannot understand why we have been singled out

“As civil servants we are constantly reminded that use of the @gov.mt e-mail account is strictly for official use. We cannot understand why we have been singled out because not all our colleagues received these e-mails,” the employees told the Times of Malta.

When contacted for a reaction, a spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner said an official investigation into the matter could only be launched if a formal complaint was lodged.

He noted that parties and candidates had been sent a set of guidelines in the form of a leaflet on the processing of personal data for political campaigning. A copy of the document was also uploaded on the commissioner’s website.

The guidelines lay down that political messages via e-mail can only be sent to individuals who give their prior consent or after having themselves provided their e-mail address as part of an enrolment process or during a political activity. Users must also be given an option to unsubscribe.

When the matter and the apparent breaches of data protection law were flagged to Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar, the reply was that no such complaints had reached his office.

A spokeswoman said it was Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil who had resorted to such practice.

On his part, a Labour spokesman insisted that the party’s mailing system was in line with the relevant laws, pointing out that anyone not wishing to receive such material could unsubscribe.

He added that Labour had been receiving similar complaints, albeit about unsolicited PN e-mails, which, he noted, had even been sent to him and to a top government official.

“We believe such cases are unfortunate and urge whoever receives unwanted e-mails to report such activity. If the e-mails persist, which should not be the case, there are other remedies the complainant can resort to,” the spokesman continued.

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