Green party ADPD this morning called for investigations by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner and other authorities into political parties’ storing of information on citizens’ voting preferences.
They labelled the practice as “unacceptable” at a press conference outside the Labour Party headquarters in Hamrun.
The Shift recently reported how a database holding the massive breach of the details and political preferences of 337,384 voters from a company run by relatives of then-Labour Party President Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi was used by ministries to select only Labour-leaning applicants for public calls for vacancies and at the exclusion of other candidates.
The massive data breach happened during Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi’s time as party president between 2003 and 2013 and came from a company run and owned by his brother-in-law and in which his father was also involved.
The Nationalist Party has so far been silent on the issue, and ADPD was the only party to have hit out at the practice.
“It is reprehensible that this information is also used by the party in Government to carry out political discrimination,” ADPD Chairperson Sandra Gauci said. “This ongoing practice should be stopped immediately. Political parties should no longer be allowed to store personal data on voters.
The database was located at the Labour Party headquarters in Hamrun and it was not accessible remotely, according to party sources who came forward to The Shift after the newsroom reported that current Public Works and Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi’s father, Joseph Zrinzo, was also involved in C-Planet IT Services – the company that compiled the database.
The minister’s brother-in-law Philip Farrugia was also involved but resigned from his position right after the electioneering data scandal broke.
Zrinzo had served as company secretary but resigned from the post after the political scandal broke and freedom of information requests on the company’s voter data breach were filed in April 2020.
Farrugia assumed Zrinzo’s position upon his exit from the scandal-tainted company and remained the company’s sole shareholder and director.
Sources who spoke to The Shift have explained that when a ministry would issue a public call for vacancies, a functionary would be sent to the Labour HQ with the shortlist of candidates to cross-reference the names with those on the database.
Voting preferences were also clearly indicated: Labour voters were marked as ‘1’, Nationalist Party voters as ‘2’, and those without a voting preference were marked as ‘0’.
ADPD Deputy Secretary General Dr Melissa Bagley said that the scandal “is a threat to the very foundations of our democratic society.
“The actions of the government in the selection of applicants for work in the public sector who vote only Labour, based on their political beliefs, is a serious violation of every principle of justice, equality and democracy.
“The government has a responsibility to ensure that our public services are staffed by individuals who are qualified and competent, regardless of their political affiliations. By engaging in discriminatory practices, the government undermines the integrity of our public service recruitment processes.”
According to Gauci, the implications of this scandal extend far beyond public service recruitment: “The storage and misuse of personal data is a serious concern that undermines the privacy and security of individuals across the country. The fact that this data was allegedly used to discriminate against individuals based on their political beliefs is a violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.”
She called for “decisive action” to address these issues, including an independent investigation into the data leak and discriminatory practices that have been uncovered.
“It also means the implementation of robust measures to prevent future breaches of privacy and to ensure that public service recruitment processes are fair, transparent, and free from political bias.
“Furthermore, we must hold those responsible for this scandal accountable for their actions as well. This includes not only those who directly participated in discriminatory practices but also those who enabled them.”
ADPD also called on the Information and Data Protection Commissioner to immediately investigate this practice and “take the necessary measures so that this storage of information by political parties no longer takes place. Amendments to the law are also needed so that political parties no longer store personal data on voters.
“The government must take decisive action quickly to restore public confidence in our political institutions and to demonstrate the commitment to uphold the principles of justice, equality, and democracy.”
Soon after the story first broke at the beginning of April 2020, independent politician Arnold Cassola filed a freedom of information request.
The company had refused Cassola’s freedom of information request by citing ongoing legal proceedings after NGO Repubblika, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, and over 600 claimants initiated court proceedings into the March 2020 leak.
The company had refused the request by citing ongoing legal proceedings, as well as claiming it did not have access to the data at the time since it was in the possession of the police and the IDPC.
The IDPC, however, put paid to the excuse by saying the company “was processing the personal data pertaining to the complainant at the time of receipt of the request”.
The finding comes after Cassola reported the matter to the IDPC in 2020. In January 2022, the Commissioner found the company guilty and fined it €65,000, the largest IDPC fine on record. The previous record was held by the €5,000 fine meted out to the Lands Authority.
Cassola has since demanded an official apology from the Labour Party and for Zrinzo Azzopardi’s resignation over the affair: “Our political profiling was done when Zrinzo Azzopardi was the Labour Party President. The Labour Party must apologise, and Zrinzo Azzopardi must resign.”