Italian lawmaker requests details of new police facial recognition system

An Italian legislator is requesting more information about the facial recognition system recently introduced for use by Italian police, which draws on a database of 16 million mugshots, or roughly one in three Italian adults, ZDNet reports.

Five Star Movement MP Federico D’Inca has filed a question in parliament requesting details about SARI (Automated System for Image Recognition), which was officially launched after an eight-month trial in July of last year. Former MP Stefano Quintarelli questioned the system’s mandate on social media, but police and the Italian Data Protection Authority have said SARI simply extends the utility of its AFIS system from fingerprints to facial biometrics.

“If before we could describe the physical appearance of a subject, identified by a picture, only by manually entering the written information into our database, now we can enter the picture itself into the system,” forensics department official Fabiola Mancone told ANSA, Italy’s national press agency, according to ZDNet.

Of the 16 million people in the database, 7 million have been stopped repeatedly by police, while the other 9 million have had their picture taken once by police.

D’Inca is requesting details about how images are selected, how long they are stored for, who has access to them, and whether the database has gone through penetration testing. He also asks about the two versions of SARI, the currently deployed system for comparing images, and the yet-to-launch real-time facial recognition analysis of public camera feeds to detect people on a watchlist.

“We are not against the SARI itself, which could prove useful. However, these technologies could in theory undermine the privacy and freedom of citizens in ways previously unheard of. It is therefore necessary to carefully monitor their deployment,” D’Inca tells ZDNet.

Law enforcement officials’ responses have not yet been delivered in parliament.

Biometric data retention policies are increasingly under scrutiny, as more facial recognition systems are deployed for law enforcement applications.

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