Labour MEP tells Maltese parties to get their act in order ahead of political ads rules

Alex Agius Saliba has called for increased transparency in the use of personal data belonging to private citizens in the targeted ads that are used in political campaigns without the consent of the individuals concerned

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba
Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba has sent an open letter to all Maltese political parties, exhorting them to be transparent in the use of political advertising.

Agius Saliba called for increased transparency in the use of personal data belonging to private citizens in the targeted ads that are used in political campaigns without the consent of the individuals concerned.

Agius Saliba’s appeal echoes the position taken by the European Parliament in favour of the ratification of a Regulation on targeted advertising for political purposes. This European legislative initiative is currently being scrutinse by the Council of Ministers of the European Union, which should see it become law in the coming months.

With 433 votes in favour, 61 against and 110 abstentions, MEPs this week approved of the negotiating position of by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, led by Renew MEP Sandro Gozi, to being talks with the Council on an agreed text in time for the 2024 European elections.

“There is too much undue interference in our democratic processes. As legislators we have a responsibility to fight this but also to ensure debate remains open and free. This law will not kill political advertising, despite rumours spread by large online platforms. Nor will it stymie our freedom of expression. It will only limit abusive political advertising,” Gozi said this week

Agius Saliba told the Labour, Nationalist, Green Party ADPD, and ABBA of the grave risks associated with the unbridled gathering of personal data by political entities, if they do not adhere to the forthcoming rules protecting citizens’ privacy and the integrity of democratic processes.

Agius Saliba encouraged the parties to send a strong message before the upcoming European Parliament and council elections in 2024 elections by publicly declaring that they shall restrict their use of targeted advertising to citizens’ location data; language data; and age data.

Agius Saliba, a vice-president of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, reiterated his belief that the restrictions will bring about increased peace of mind to citizens that their data shall not fall into the wrong hands and that it shall not be exploited by those using artificial intelligence to spread malicious propaganda or disinformation. “The small size of our electorate should allow us to implement these restrictions without serious issues and subsequently we can become a benchmark for other European countries in this respect.”

Restricting targeting strategies and a de facto ban on micro-targeting

Under the changes made by MEPs to the Commission’s proposal, only personal data explicitly provided for online political advertising can be used by advert providers. Micro-targeting, a strategy that uses consumer data and demographics to identify the interests of specific individuals, will therefore not be possible.

Parliament introduced other provisions to further regulate the broader activity of targeting, such as a blanket ban on using minors’ data.

Tackling interference from abroad

MEPs proposed non-EU based entities be banned from financing political advertisements in the EU. To determine where such an entity is established, the relevant authorities should take into account where the ultimate controller of this entity is located.

Greater transparency

MEPs made significant changes to ensure that citizens, authorities and journalists have easy access to information on political advertisement. Among other proposals, they advocate creating an online repository for all online political advertisements and related data.

It would be easier to obtain information on who is financing an advert, on its cost, and the origin of the money used.

Other pieces of information which should also be published include whether an advertisement has been suspended for violating the rules, on the specific groups of individuals targeted and what personal data were used for this, and the views and engagement with the advertisement.

MEPs want to give journalists a specific right to obtain such information.

New sanctions in case of infringement

MEPs introduced the possibility of periodic penalties to be levied for a repeated violation and the obligation for large advertisement service providers to suspend their services for 15 days with a particular client in the case of serious and systemic infringements. The Commission will be able to introduce EU-wide minimum sanctions.

The adopted text also strengthens the powers of the national authorities and allows the European Data Protection Board to take over an investigation into an infringement and enforce the rules.