Malta: UN expert recommends broad changes to surveillance laws

GENEVA (18 December 2019) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy is recommending to the Government of Malta to  reinforce the protection of fundamental human rights and respect for the rule of law in the context of the reform of its surveillance, policy, legislation and practices.

Joe Cannataci, appointed as an independent expert by the Human Rights Council in 2015, in the wake of the 2013 Snowden revelations over surveillance, has submitted a set of detailed proposals to the Government about the overhaul of Malta’s Security Service Act as well as complementary constitutional amendments. The Special Rapporteur’s communication to the Government is now available online.

“Recent developments in Malta seem to indicate that existing safeguards need to be significantly improved in order to conform to Malta’s obligations under human rights law and thus retain the confidence of the international community in the rule of law in Malta,” Cannataci said.

“Malta’s laws need to be reformed so as to introduce greater accountability and better safeguards which would protect privacy, the rule of law and democratic governance in Malta.

“I have followed closely the revelations which have unfolded in Malta’s judicial proceedings over the past several weeks and I am offering a set of detailed recommendations which should tighten safeguards and avoid the current potential for conflicts of interest, especially where the role of Ministers and the Prime Minister is concerned,” he said in the letter to the Government.

Among the recommendations were the creation of an independent Security Commissioner responsible for approving interception warrants and other activities of the Malta Security Service (MSS); the creation of a Security Service Oversight Board consisting of three serving or retired Judges tasked with oversight of the Security Commissioner and the MSS as well as with dealing with complaints from the public about the MSS; and the change of ultimate reporting lines for the MSS from the Prime Minister to the President.

“These new legal safeguards should intrinsically improve the protection of citizens available under Maltese law and also serve to bolster international confidence that the Executive in Malta is sincerely committed to bringing integrity to the country’s institutions,” said Cannataci.


Mr. Joseph Cannataci (Malta) was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy by the Human Rights Council in July 2015. He is an academic who has had a pioneering role in the development on data protection, privacy law and technology law. A UK Chartered Information Technology Professional & Fellow of the British Computer Society, he also continues to act as Expert Consultant to a number of international organisations.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page –Malta

For more information and press inquiries, please contact:

In Geneva: Krystel Abi Habib, Human Rights Officer, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights () (+41 22 917 9042/ [email protected]) or [email protected];