Italy introduces a moratorium on video surveillance systems that use facial recognition
On 1 December 2021, the Italian Parliament introduced a moratorium on video surveillance systems that use facial recognition technologies. This law introduces, for the first time in an EU Member State, a temporary ban for private entities to use these systems in public places or places accessible to the public. This moratorium is an important achievement: it recognises the dangers posed by technologies such as facial recognition to people's rights and freedoms. The moratorium will be in force until 31 December 2023 at the latest, unless a new law is introduced on the subject of biometric surveillance before that date.
This law introduces, for the first time in an EU Member State, a temporary ban for private entities to use these systems in public places or places accessible to the public. This moratorium is an important achievement: it recognises the dangers posed by technologies such as facial recognition to people’s rights and freedoms. The moratorium will be in force until 31 December 2023 at the latest, unless a new law is introduced on the subject of biometric surveillance before that date.
Places such as shops, sports halls and public transports will not be allowed to use video surveillance systems with facial recognition and they face administrative fines similar to those in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) if they don’t comply. This is a major success for the Italian partners of the Reclaim Your Face coalition, which has been calling for a European-wide ban on this type of technology for the past year. Together with the Hermes Center, Associazione Luca Coscioni, Certi Diritti, CILD, Eumans, info.nodes, The Good Lobby, Privacy Network, Progetto Winston Smith, and StraLi are the Italian partners of the Reclaim Your Face coalition.
The moratorium also applies to public authorities, such as municipalities and other government departments, but there are major exemptions that might force Italy to take a significant step back with regard to the use of these technologies by judicial authorities, public prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.
First of all, the moratorium applies only to video surveillance systems with facial recognition, it doesn’t take into account systems such as those developed by Clearview AI. In addition, the newly introduced moratorium allows the police to use such systems subject to a case-by-case approval by the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA) and exempts judicial authorities and public prosecutors from any kind of preemptive control.
Until now, the Italian DPA had stopped the use of real-time facial recognition systems and remote biometric identification systems by the police and municipalities because Italy lacked a legal basis for the processing of biometric data by law enforcement authorities. Now this moratorium provides a legal basis and risks normalising the use of these technologies during police activities in the field of public security and for investigation and crime prosecution activities.
This change is even more serious if one takes into account the fact that the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure does not contain any prescriptions for the use of facial recognition systems: there are neither specifications on the types of crime for which it can be used nor details on the duration of the use of these technologies. This means that a prosecutor may require the use of a real-time facial recognition system to verify the identity of people who meet with a suspect while he is in a public square, where hundreds of other people, passing by in the area, have nothing to do with the investigation but whose biometric data are nevertheless collected and analysed by the facial recognition system.
This moratorium echoes the regulation on Artificial Intelligence proposed by the European Commission (AI Act) which, while introducing the possibility to ban biometric surveillance technologies, creates broad exceptions with regard to police and judicial activities.
As recalled by EDRi’s recent letter signed together with 119 associations, the exceptions foreseen in the Artificial Intelligence Act “undermine the necessity and proportionality requirements of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and should be removed.”
In addition, according to documents obtained by EDRi member Statewatch, the EU Council wants to make it possible for private actors to operate mass biometric surveillance systems on behalf of police forces, and intends to extend the purposes for which such systems can be used under the EU’s proposed Artificial Intelligence Act.
The moratorium adopted in Italy is an important result but with these exceptions it reminds us even more that the only acceptable solution is to call for a ban on the use of all biometric mass surveillance technologies, extended to all subjects and not limited to facial recognition only.
This article is also available in Italian here.
- Reclaim your face: Italian Data Protection Authority’s Opinion on a real-time facial recognition system acquired by the Italian Police (24.04.2021)
- Reclaim Your Face: New German government calls for European ban on biometric mass surveillance (24.11.2021)
- EDPB and the EDPS call for a general ban on any use of AI for automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces (18.06.2021)