PM’s aide breached ethics by publishing IDs of government critics

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Former journalist Josef Caruana, appointed as a person of trust within the Office of the Prime Minister, was found to have breached ethics when he published the names and ID numbers of academics who signed a petition calling for the resignation or removal of his employer, former PM Joseph Muscat.

Over 300 academics had signed a petition calling for Muscat’s resignation at the height of the political crisis at the end of last year, and Caruana took to Facebook to attack them as stating that “our pretend intellectuals at the University of Malta are quick to reach conclusions… not in the name of the rule of law.”

Sadanittant fl-Università (University of Malta) s-suppost intellettwali tagħna jaslu malajr għall-konklużjonijiet … mhux f’ġieħ is-saltna tad-dritt!!!

Posted by Josef Caruana on Tuesday, December 3, 2019

But he went further when a government supporter asked him to identify the academics involved, reproducing part of the petition, showing the names and ID numbers of around 70 university academics.

The academics wrote to the Data Protection Commissioner over the matter, and Caruana removed the image within hours. But one of the signatories, academic and former AD chairman Arnold Cassola, asked Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler to look into the matter.

The Data Protection Commissioner deemed the academics’ complaint to be justified, but deemed the case closed once Caruana removed his post.

Caruana’s action ‘a form of intimidation’ from PM’s aide

In correspondence with Hyzler, Caruana defended himself by stating that the information he disclosed was in the public domain, as the petition was making the rounds at University, and said that he had every right to criticise the academics’ action. He also said that his disclosure of their names and ID numbers was not unusual, linking an article on TVM’s website which shows the names and ID numbers of signatories of a letter written in opposition to the EU’s defence pact.

But Hyzler insisted that the publication of ID numbers was not justified, and that the fact that the petition was making the rounds did not put its contents in the public domain.

Caruana, he said, carried a greater responsibility than private individuals.

“It was inevitable that the publication of ID card numbers from a person in such a role would be taken as a form of intimidation, even if this was not Caruana’s intention. The message thereby sent was ‘we know who you are’,” Hyzler said..

Hyzler reiterated that even persons of trust should be considered as public officials, and as such bound to act in a politically-neutral manner. Their actions, he added, could reflect badly on public administration as those of any civil servant.

He thus concluded that Caruana was in breach of the ethical code public officials are bound to.