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Real-time facial recognition system deployment blocked by Italian data protection authority

Decision spurred by privacy concerns

biometric identification facial recognition

The Italian data protection authority (Garante) has published a new document in which it declared the Sari Real Time facial recognition system unlawful.

The report specifically mentions privacy concerns, explaining how the biometric tool in its current design would effectively establish an “indiscriminate mass surveillance system.”

Sari Real Time is a facial recognition system that would rely on a number of cameras installed in a particular geographical area and capable of scanning individuals’ faces in real-time.

The faces would then be compared with a Governmental biometric database able to store up to 10,000 faces, and available to law enforcement upon request.

Moreover, the Sari system would also be able to automatically find matches between live faces in the public and a police watch-list, and issue alerts for the police to apprehend the suspect in real time.

The system is currently subject to approval by the Garante, which mentioned recent guidelines from the European Council to support its decision to postpone the facial recognition system’s adoption.

The Italian data protection authority acknowledges that the proposed Sari Real Time system would immediately delete images of individuals who are not deemed as suspects. However, the Garante also adds that the fact that everyone’s faces would be scanned indiscriminately in the first place may lead to an evolution of the very nature of surveillance, marking a shift from targeted surveillance of certain individuals to the possibility of universal surveillance.

Because of these privacy-related issues, the new report asked the Ministry of Interior (Ministero dell’interno) to review the Sari Real Time facial recognition system to provide an adequate regulatory basis taking into account citizens’ rights and freedoms.

The new regulations should also define situations in which the use of such systems is possible, thus limiting the Government from pursuing mass surveillance operations.

These should include criteria for identifying suspects that can be added to the police watchlist, clear regulations in case of false positives, and adequacy of the system to identify ethnic minorities without discriminatory biases.

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