Brussels reply on Safe City suggests facial recognition CCTV impossible without proper justification

PN candidate Michael Briguglio has requested detailed explanation over privacy impact assessment on Safe City CCTV system 

The creation of a facial recognition CCTV system in Malta would probably be impossible unless there are clear public interest grounds serious enough to merit such an invasive surveillance system. 

Briguglio published a lengthy reply from the European Commissioner for justice Vera Jourova, on various queries he submitted on the Safe City project, which will be implementing a form of advanced video surveillance. 

Earlier plans for facial recognition CCTV appear to have been scuttled due to legal and data protection issues that would have not found a public interest for such surveillance. 

In the Commission’s reply, it is clear that privacy requirements are even more stringent where video surveillance uses facial recognition technology, which uses biometric data to uniquely identify natural person. 

READ MORE Rollback on facial recognition CCTV: no legal justification for intrusive technology 

In a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister, Briguglio requested information on the extent of the privacy safeguards that were being implemented in the design of facial recognition and advanced surveillance CCTV. 

The PN candidate requested information on who was the data controller for the Safe City project; what legal basis existed for the objective of Safe City to authorise the collection of the data as “a task in the public interest”; what substantial public interests existed at law to carry out such CCTV surveillance; and whether a data protection impact assessment had been carried out prior to processing. 

The Safe City project was part of a memorandum of understanding signed between private-public partnership arm Projects Malta and Chinese 5G developers Huawei

Initial reports that Safe City would be installed as a pilot project in Paceville was instantly met with a request for clarifications from the United Nations’ rapporteur on data protection, Prof. Joseph Cannataci, who is based in Malta. 

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation prohibits in principle the processing of special categories of personal data. Video surveillance must be necessary for reasons of substantial public interest.  

Such a project would also require a data protection impact assessment to assess the necessity and proportionality of the processing, the risks to the rights and freedoms of data subjects, and the measures envisaged to address those risks.