Except for law enforcement officials, Italy bans the use of facial recognition technologies in public spaces.
The European Union has been preparing for some time to ban the use of facial recognition technologies, as well as other surveillance tools based on predictive algorithms, in public spaces. The initiative was announced in the European Parliament itself, outlining preventive measures to discourage mass surveillance practices in EU member countries. Specifically, the draft law aims to ban some of the most powerful technologies that could be used to undermine democracy, or restrict the civil liberties of European citizens. Already widely used in countries like China, these are facial recognition technologies that could identify a specific person from a crowd of people, or track their movements step-by-step.
As for the Italian authorities’ move to speed up the implementation of these measures, it seems to stem from the controversy surrounding a new smart glass accessory made available to authorities in the city of Lecee. Equipped with facial recognition technology, the device allows law enforcement officials to recognise suspects or people wanted for various crimes from a crowd. The technology is also being used in the Tuscan town of Arezzo, where the glasses worn by traffic policemen allow them to check number plates and find out in real time who the owner of the car is. For example, the police officer “connected” to the speed camera located nearby can pull drivers over without having to manually communicate the number plates concerned.
The main complaint of authorities seems to be the lack of transparency on how facial recognition technologies are used, with suspicions of breaches of European GDPR legislation.
Under EU and Italian law, processing of personal data by public bodies using video devices is generally allowed for reasons of public interest and when it is related to the work of public authorities. However, municipalities wishing to use these technologies must conclude “urban security pacts” with central government representatives, which did not happen in this case.
Thus, while the use of facial recognition technologies for law enforcement activities may eventually be unblocked, it would appear that their use will be severely limited to expressly authorised use scenarios, with European legislation excluding the widespread use of these technologies.
Unfortunately, the EU Parliament’s initiative is not binding, which means that the laws of member countries will still take precedence over EU directives, favouring the interests and aspirations of local politicians.