Facial recognition concept against Italy flag

Italy bans the use of facial-recognition technology

Image credit: Dreamstime

Italy's Data Protection Agency has issued a rebuke to two municipalities experimenting with ‘smart glasses’ and facial-recognition technology.

Italy has banned the use of facial-recognition technology and similar biometrics systems until either a specific law is adopted or at least until the end of next year. 

"The moratorium arises from the need to regulate eligibility requirements, conditions and guarantees relating to facial recognition, in compliance with the principle of proportionality," the agency said in a statement.

Facial-recognition systems can extract different kinds of information from images and then relay these data back to the user. Under European Union and Italian law, the processing of personal data by public bodies using video devices is generally allowed on public interest grounds and when linked to the activity of public authorities, the Italian watchdog said. 

However, municipalities that want to use them have to strike "urban security pacts" with central government representatives, it added.

The exception is when such technologies play a role in judicial investigations or the fight against crime.

Facial-recognition technologies have increasingly been used by police authorities around the world to fight against crime. The Metropolitan Police and the South Wales Police are some of the forces that have been known to use these technologies.

However, this use of facial-recognition technologies has led to civil rights challenges and condemnation from human rights groups, who argue that the technology is often mistaken in cases of identity and also inherently biased.

The decision by the Italian agency comes as a reaction to the measures taken in the southern Italian city of Lecce, where authorities said they would begin using a technology based on facial recognition, as well as the Tuscan city of Arezzo, where local police were due to be equipped with infrared super-glasses that can recognise car number plates. 

The Lecce municipality was ordered to provide a description of the systems adopted, their purpose and legal basis and a list of databases accessed by its monitoring devices, the watchdog said.

Earlier this year, an independent review commissioned by the Ada Lovelace Foundation of UK legislation called for the government to pass laws that will govern biometric technologies and ensure their ethical use.

Last month, the state of Texas filed a lawsuit against technology giant Google for the company’s collection and use of biometric data, which it says goes against the state’s Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act. Facial-recognition company Clearview AI has also faced pushback from several nations and was recently ordered to delete all the data it held that related to UK citizens. 

In September 2022 in the UK, 14 campaign groups wrote an open letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley requesting an end to the use of facial-recognition technologies by police forces, calling the technology “privacy-eroding, inaccurate and wasteful”.

In 2021, the Council of Europe, a 47-country human rights and democracy organisation, published a set of guidelines [PDF] for governments, lawmakers, providers, and businesses laying out its proposals for use of facial recognition technologies.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles