Paceville’s notoriety as a hotbed of crime could be dealt a serious blow by plans to install CCTV cameras across the town complete with facial recognition software.
Yet the plan, which has been floated by a new government company called Safe City Malta, has already been subjected to criticism on the lines that it amounts to a serious invasion of privacy.
The Malta IT Law Association became the first group of people to criticise the move today, warning the plan breaches Maltese and EU legislation on privacy.
“Facial recognition software applications and its impact on privacy is far higher than static surveillance cameras since the processing of personal data, specifically biometric data, is much more acute, automated and process-heavy,” the association said. “This is exacerbated by the fact that the proposed technology often exposes accuracy deficiencies, misidentifying gender and/or race. The potential introduction of such technologies at a nationwide scale makes a local debate even more urgent.”
It added that any such state-of-the-art technology must be preceded by a national debate and the setting up of new laws which carefully balance the rights of people to privacy and the duties of the authorities to fight crime and preserve public order.
“In light of the risk posed by emerging technologies, including facial recognition applications, such balance will not be easily achieved and will require careful consideration.”
What exactly is being proposed?
Safe City Malta’s plans for such controversial technology are still in their infancy but were revealed to MaltaToday last Sunday by its director Joseph Cuschieri – who also heads the Malta Gaming Authority.
The plan is to install high-definition CCTV cameras all across Paceville and connect them to a mobile control centre. Facial recognition software will then be used to identify people as they walk in and out of Paceville, and police officers out on the beat will relay data to the system which would then pick out people’s identities.
The idea is for the system to start life in Paceville but to eventually be rolled out across other parts of Malta.
“Even if a fight breaks out, and witnesses say the perpetrator was wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, the HD-CCTV system can pick out all such persons so that the police can focus on who to apprehend,” Cuschieri said. “Malta cannot ignore the ever-increasing threat of global terrorism. This means that the country must remain well prepared in managing public safety. It therefore needs to continue investing in state-of-the-art technology and services that complement existing infrastructure and capabilities, to meet its longer-term goals of socio-economic development.”