When the love between mayors and video surveillance broke out

When the love between mayors and video surveillance broke out

Over the past twenty years, politics has put the sense of urban insecurity at the center of its agenda. Paving the way for capillary camera systems

Video surveillance cameras (Pixabay) The funding from the Ministry of the Interior to Municipalities for video surveillance systems, costing almost 17 million euros in 2020, is just the latest chapter of a research security that has been pestering local administrators for over twenty years. The realization of an ever greater control of the territories entrusted to technology has its roots in the advent of a new concept of security in local policies: the trait d'union between citizen and state become the mayors, terrorism and mafias are replaced by micro-crime and urban decay.

The perception of insecurity

In the early nineties a concept of safety began to emerge, linked both to the territory and to specific behaviors - not crimes - which, according to local politicians seem to affect the citizens' perception of insecurity (graffiti, noises at night, meeting of young people in the squares to consume alcohol). The "Safe Cities" projects begin and the first memorandum of understanding is signed with specific reference to urban safety.

"The discourse of urban security in Italy is animated by the center-left in Emilia Romagna through the" Safe Cities "project", comments Enrico Gargiulo, sociologist and researcher at the University of Bologna. As quoted by Tamar Pitch, professor of Philosophy of law at the University of Perugia, in the book "Contro il decoro", and by Rossella Selmini, associate professor of Criminology at the University of Bologna in the recent book "From urban security to control of political dissent ”, the“ Safe Cities ”project led to a rift within the world of Italian criminology. Many academics of the time entered the working tables on urban security in good faith, even if these very cleared a certain mentality that drew on Rudy Giuliani's zero tolerance policies in New York and other policies originating from the United Kingdom.

The project for "Modena safe city", carried out in 1995 in the Emilian city, was the first experiment in Italy with the aim of defining some lines of intervention on the territory well before 2008, the year in which the term urban security peeps into a law. A few years later, between 1996 and 1998, the three Bassanini laws gave a significant boost in this regard. The reform of the public administration in fact provides for administrative decentralization and the handing over of public security to the municipalities, which until then had been entrusted solely to the state.

At the same time the instrument of security pacts is introduced, an agreement between the prefect and the mayor that varies in content over the years but whose purpose is that, as stated for the city of Milan in 2007 , to alleviate "a growing sense of insecurity, determined by the current state of order and public security". Eight years later, the prefect and the mayor of Parma write in the "Pact for a safer city" that it is necessary to counter "all those behaviors that, although not attributable to real criminal offenses, can nevertheless cause serious disturbance to people and cause situations of degradation of the territory ".

In autonomy from the central government, many municipal administrations therefore begin to talk about security in the cities, to implement protocols, pacts and agreements between prefects and mayors. The common thread that unites all these tools is the political need to consider the perception of insecurity as even more important than security itself, even in the absence of relevant criminal problems. “It almost seems that in the face of the steady decrease in street crimes it was still necessary for politics to leverage on safety. The crimes of white collar workers [scams, money laundering, fraud, corruption, nda] increase but unlike those on the street, they are not seen. In my opinion, security is historically such a central instrument of government that it cannot disappear with the decrease in crimes, so it must be found in another form ", continues Gargiulo.

Urban security and immigration

The legitimacy of the issue of urban security reaches the peak of the 2007-2009 two-year period, dotted with some bloody events that had Rome as a background. The tone of emergency triggers a growing political interest in the cities. The then Minister of the Interior Giuliano Amato signed the Security Pact with the National Association of Italian Municipalities (Anci) in the spring of 2007. Two years later, the successor Roberto Maroni creates the Security package. And in 2017 the Minniti-Orlando decree closes the circle.

The mayors, left increasingly free to act on citizen issues, issue over 500 ordinances in the two-year period 2009-2010. According to a report by Anci and Cittalia, the instrument of the ordinance was mainly used in regions of the Center-North, with areas of intervention that change over time: from the fight against prostitution to the sale of food and drinks, up to the "phenomena and attitudes that damage the decorum of the city or that create disturbance, not physical, to other citizens ". To underline the abuse of this tool in the hands of the mayors, the Constitutional Court, which in 2011 declared its use illegitimate even in non-urgent situations.

In 2017, the Security Decree of the Minister of the Interior Marco Minniti ties immigration and security (which becomes a "public good relating to the livability and decorum of cities"). “A season of building security policies in a large part of the center left. Even the Turco-Napolitano law speaks of security and immigration before Minniti, so we can safely say that the securitization of the issue in Italy is historically a center-left project even before that of the right, ”Gargiulo comments. The theme is at the center of the electoral game, which is played on people's emotions and on the feeling of insecurity of citizens. A lifestyle, often not voluntary, is administratively sanctioned, which according to the promoters of these policies threatens the dignity and therefore the livability and perception of safety of citizens.

"The paper, the writing on the wall or the small gathering of slightly suspicious young people in the corner are phenomena that begin to be labeled at that moment. The vagueness and ambiguity of the definition of urban security can only exacerbate the problem. Minniti has repeatedly stated that the reality of crime data is not to be considered because, even if these are low, the perception remains. And this is what he wanted to work on and on which we continue to focus today ", adds Gargiulo.

Video surveillance costs and is not always needed

Urban video surveillance systems are inserted as an indispensable tool quite quietly, even if inevitably. More power to local administrations in controlling the territory means increasing the presence of the police force, and this does not go hand in hand with the resources in the pockets of the Municipalities. In the 2007 pact for safe Milan, a paragraph is dedicated on the use of video cameras in the areas most at risk. Over time, however, it seems that the concept of a risk area affects a large part of the city. According to the data requested by Wired from the Municipality of Milan, there are currently 2,174 cameras for urban security purposes, of which 1,650 can be oriented vertically and horizontally and 524 are fixed. Large numbers also in Rome (1,769 video cameras), Venice (392) and Parma (350).

Regarding the real effectiveness of video surveillance in the field of security policies, the downhill road of the municipalities was interrupted for a moment by a circular from the Ministry of the Interior in 2012 in which it is emphasized that " diffusion of video surveillance systems is accompanied by a detailed discussion about the opportunities and limits of such instruments [...] in some cases the use, sometimes improper and not always functional, of these systems generates diseconomies that originate from an inappropriate investment of public resources by local authorities and by a non-constant correspondence to the actual security needs of the territory ".

The use of public funds without having previously identified the need or not to invest in a technological tool is a crucial point, which, however, cannot be solved in the regulations in force. With the introduction of the GDPR in 2018, municipalities that identify a high risk in the processing of data obtained through video surveillance must carry out an impact assessment on privacy to highlight and mitigate it, and then communicate it to the Guarantor for the protection of personal data.

That unsolicited opinion

Asked by email by Wired, the Guarantor announces that post Gdpr no municipality has so far presented a prior consultation for the adoption of video surveillance for urban security purposes. Before the Gdpr, 11 had arrived. "It is likely that the Municipalities, especially when they use traditional video surveillance systems, not equipped with advanced and innovative functions, come to the conclusion that the risk that remains despite the security measures identified by the owner is not so high to require a prior consultation of the Guarantor "comments the Authority.

In practice, however, as the case of the facial recognition system installed by the Municipality of Como demonstrates, it is first of all a problem of knowledge of the technology that is being used that determines the subsequent risk to the privacy of citizens. For proper management of public funds - and surveillance risks - it would be useful for municipalities to necessarily analyze the impact on citizens' privacy before launching a tender to install video surveillance.

For Gargiulo the scenario that is outlined is worrying: “Selecting acceptable behaviors in public spaces and driving away those who do not comply with a fine or an urban Daspo is chilling. We should give weight to the socio-economic conditions of people, to the conformation of our cities, to political choices on urban voids ”.

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