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Video Surveillance and Artificial Intelligence: CNPD’s refusal

SÉRVULO PUBLICATIONS 17 Jan 2020

On December 27, 2019, the Portuguese National Commission for Data Protection (the "C.N.P.D.") issued two opinions rejecting the use, in video surveillance systems, of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies in the cities of Portimão and Leiria. The projects were submitted to the consideration of the C.N.P.D. by the Public Security Police (“P.S.P.”) after dispatch from the Ministry of Internal Administration. 

The Portimão project foresaw the installation of 61 video surveillance cameras, 10 of which would be installed in the city and 51 in Praia da Rocha («Rocha’s Beach»), which the C.N.P.D. considered "to cover practically the entire beach" and where people tend to be more exposed, reason why greater caution is required. In Leiria the scenario would be a slightly different since 19 video surveillance cameras already existed and  the project aimed to include 42 more cameras. 

The use of video-surveillance images is a processing of personal data that must comply with Directive (EU) 2016/680 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 July 2016 (on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data by competent authorities for the purposes of the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, and on the free movement of such data), which provides that video-surveillance activities are possible in cases of prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, including the safeguarding and prevention of threats to public security, that are permitted by law and constitute a necessary and proportionate measure in a democratic society, with due regard to the legitimate interests of the natural person concerned. 

The purpose of this new video-surveillance system would be the prevention and prosecution of crime, traffic management or the prevention of road accidents. But in both cities, the C.N.P.D. understood that video-surveillance allowed to capture, “in all directions and with great acuity, images of people and vehicles, plus the possibility of capturing sound", and enabled tracking of individuals and their behaviours and habits, as well as the identification of individuals based on information related with their physical characteristics”. 

The argument used by C.N.P.D. for the refusal was identical in both cities, focusing essentially on the affectation of the private life of people who circulated or were in these municipalities and the impact of these video-surveillance technologies on the fundamental rights of the data subjects. C.N.P.D. considered that a video-surveillance system with the aforementioned characteristics represented a "high risk to citizens' privacy, not only because of the amount and type of information that can be collected (...) but also because of the opaqueness of the process of defining patterns of analysis and detection" since there is not sufficient justification on the part of P.S.P. regarding the filters and "digital masks" that would be used to protect intimacy and privacy. 

Adopting a conservative stance, for C.N.P.D. the use of video surveillance systems using artificial intelligence must be preceded by "particularly rigorous consideration". Nonetheless, these two opinions should not be seen as an absolute refusal to the use of this type of systems.

Catarina Mira Lança

cml@servulo.com