Data Protection vs. The Right to Privacy
It is also important to distinguish between the concept of Data Protection Law from the Fundamental Human right to Privacy. Privacy is a right whilst data protection is the legislation which implements that right. The Right to Privacy as a European concept extends to one’s personal or family activities which should not be scrutinised by Public authorities. One could look at it as Privacy being a protection from possible abuses of personal information or searches by the state, while Data Protection is the tool the law uses to make sure that an individual is protected from abuse of his personal information by another individual.
Basically one always has to keep in mind that Privacy protects one against the actions of the state while Data Protection will only work against any private individual. To clarify, a private individual can also include a company since Maltese law provides that a data controller can be either an individual or a group of individuals. To illustrate, Data protection law includes the right of the individual to be informed that he can refuse direct marketing from a company or other trader he has given his personal details to.
Another area that should be mentioned in this area is the concept of Freedom of Information, not to be confused with Freedom of Speech. This particular area mainly concerns information that is in possession of the government of a state. It is commonly referred to as ‘the right to know’ and basically empowers individuals to access information that is being kept by the state. The main issue is one of transparency. The laws laid down in the Freedom of Information Act, once they come into force will allow access to government information by any individual considered as eligible. The whole idea is to make sure that the government remains accountable to individuals in the way it carries out its functions. The laws will not however grant access to any and all documents as there are some areas like the Electoral Commission and the Office of the Attorney General which still will not be affected by this law. With regard to the concept of Data Protection, the fact remains that freedom of information will not in any way water it down as the information is still protected by the Data Commissioner and excludes disclosing any information protected by the Data Protection Act. This means that even though disclosure might be necessary, the information released can never be sensitive personal information since this remains protected under the Data Protection Act. Such information will always be kept safe by the government or even private individuals unless it falls under one of the exceptions in the Data protection Act. An example of these exceptions is when using the data is necessary to save the life of the individual.