Italy has banned facial recognition in public

With an amendment inserted in the DL Capienze, Italy prohibits the use of facial recognition technologies in public places or open to the public, but there is no shortage of criticism

For the first time, Italy is ahead of the rest of the world in adopting legislation to protect the privacy of citizens, put at risk by technological evolution and, above all, artificial intelligence. Within the Decree Law Capienze, approved on December 1, 2021, there is in fact a new rule that prohibits in Italy the use of facial recognition technologies in public places and open to the public.

All those technologies, that is, that allow to identify a person in an automatic and computerized way if he is filmed by a surveillance camera. This is an increasingly likely scenario, given the large number of IP cameras that have been installed in Italy in recent years, both by private individuals and by the State, and that film streets, squares or even just small stretches of sidewalk in front of a store window. Of these thousands of cameras, only a fraction, today, are combined with facial recognition systems. But technology is galloping and the costs of these systems are plummeting, so it's only a matter of time (not much) before facial recognition applied to cameras that capture public places becomes something very inexpensive. Welcome, then, a regulation that regulates the use of biometric recognition even if, in the specific case of the new Italian law, many believe that it is an insufficient regulation to protect the privacy of citizens.

Facial Recognition: the new law

The ban on the use of facial recognition technologies applied to surveillance cameras will apply throughout 2022 and 2023 and will act as a bridge to the new European regulation on artificial intelligence, scheduled for 2023, which will create the basis for a common regulation for all European countries.

With the new Italian law, the installation in public places (streets, squares, etc..

The new Italian legislation prohibits the installation in public places (streets, squares, etc...) and places open to the public (stores, theaters, stadiums, etc...) of video surveillance systems equipped with face recognition technology, but with one major exception: the use of these systems is still allowed for the prevention and prosecution of crimes or the execution of criminal sanctions.

In other words: the Police forces, if authorized by the judiciary (but they don't need the authorization of the Privacy Guarantor), will be able to use facial recognition also in case the cameras are pointed on public places or open to the public.

Nothing changes, however, for surveillance cameras that are not equipped with facial recognition systems, which remain regulated by the previous legislation.

A useless rule?

With this rule, it will be forbidden for private individuals to install video surveillance systems with facial recognition in any place. For example, in a large shopping mall, a sports facility or any other place where it may be convenient for the private individual, for economic or security reasons, to automatically recognize who is present within the space.

These are, clearly, much less frequent cases than the possible use of these systems by Police, Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza and other police forces authorized by the judiciary.

For this reason, while everyone recognizes the importance and courage of Italy in being the first country to adopt such a law, there is no lack of those who consider this law absolutely insufficient. Among the voices against the new law there is, for example, that of Privacy Network, an association that promotes privacy, data protection and digital rights of people and that has long called for a total moratorium on the use of facial recognition, without exception.

According to Privacy Network "Considering that the most critical and the main use of these systems have as their object precisely the treatments for the prevention and repression of (alleged) crimes, it is clear that the moratorium has a very small impact. In fact, it applies only to limited hypotheses, such as the use of facial recognition systems in public places or open to the public (e.g. theaters)".

Privacy Network calls for the "absolute prohibition of any type of biometric identification in public places, even for the prevention and repression of crimes" because "These systems are simply too dangerous for anyone's freedom".