State of the Union conference 2015: The role of local and regional authorities in the European discussion on security and freedom

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The European Forum provided a local and regional authority’s perspective to the discussion on security and freedom that took place at this year’s State of the Union conference 6-9 May 2015 in Florence.

Florence, Italy, May 2015 – A number of high ranking elected officials were invited by the President of the European University Institute, Prof. J.H.H. Weiler, and Efus President, Guilherme Pinto, to discuss technology, security and freedom in an urban context during the “State of the Union” conference on Europe, held in Florence (Italy), on 6-9 May.
The Mayors of Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Florence, Ahmed Aboutaleb and Dario Nardella, the Minister of the Interior of the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, Ramon Espadaler Parcerisas, and the Vice President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, Leen Verbeek, took part in this debate.


Talking about their choice of using – or not using- technologies for the safety and security of their citizens, how they make use of these new instruments at their disposal and how they address issues of ethics and fundamental rights intrusion, the above mentioned guest speakers showed that local and regional authorities have an important role to play in the European discussion on security, contributing to an enlightened and responsible use of technologies for security.
Participants shared the idea that technologies play an increasing role, but also that they should be seen simply as tools, which is what they are, and that safeguards for the respect of liberties should be in place. They stressed that security and freedom are intrinsically linked and must be considered together.

admin-ajax (1)Efus President, Guilherme Pinto, who is also Mayor of Matosinhos (Portugal), said that the SURVEILLE research project had tackled issues that are relevant to local and regional authorities who use these technologies: Do they work? How much do they cost? Are they efficient? What are the risks in terms of ethics and fundamental rights intrusion? What do citizens think about these technologies? Mr Pinto acknowledged the important contribution the research project can make in helping local decision makers to find solutions. Using fine grained analysis of usability, ethics and fundamental rights, the project broke down general, categorical discussions -to use or not to use a technology- into a series of smaller problems, for which solutions and a compromise can be found. As shown in the experience of Efus member cities, such an approach combines the advantage of using technology for urban security and safeguarding fundamental rights and privacy.
Mr Pinto recalled that Efus developed this approach when it worked on the issue of CCTV and published the Charter for a Democratic Use of Video Surveillance. With the SURVEILLE project, Efus went a step further and applied the seven fundamental principles of the Charter to the use of technologies in general. For Mr Pinto, this is a truly European endeavour to which local authorities could make an important contribution thanks to their direct contact with citizens. He called European institutions to adopt these principles and insights for a responsible use of security technologies in Europe.

DARIO NARDThe Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, stressed the importance of prevention as a means to maintain and strengthen urban security. Citing the experience of his city with smart CCTV, he acknowledged the potential of technologies and stressed the need to find the right balance between security and privacy, in particular by respecting principles of necessity and proportionality. It is also important to carry out a preliminary local safety audit in order to identify actual needs and to determine the objectives of the local safety policies, prior to considering deploying technological tools, added Mr Nardella. In this context, it is worth considering alternatives that are less costly and intrusive. Mr Nardella said that technologies are useful when used as part of a partnership for urban safety that works well, and which involves all local stakeholders as well as citizens.

AHMED ABThe Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, said that technologies can be very useful tools as part of a “basket” of local safety instruments. Rotterdam was the first city that signed Efus’ Charter for a Democratic Use of Video Surveillance, in 2010.
Mr Aboutaleb explained that the success of the Rotterdam’s CCTV system in reducing crime was closely linked to the extensive process of consultation that had been led with citizens, in which the Mayor was personally involved. When the system was launched in Rotterdam in 2000, some questions were raised. But now, there is a strong demand from citizens. Mr Aboutaleb said that now, Rotterdam uses CCTV only when necessary and that sometimes, this even means removing cameras. But now, Mr Aboutaleb must explain to citizens at neighbourhood meetings why sometimes it’s better to to do so. Mr Aboutaleb stressed that when money is lacking he prefers to concentrate funds on education and prevention rather than on security technologies. He added that the key to urban security is to involve citizens in the life of their own community.

admin-ajax (2)Ramón Espadaler Parcerisas, Minister of the Interior of the regional government of Catalonia, stressed the role played by regional authorities in a good, efficient and responsible use of technologies. Citing the example of CCTV, he explained how the regional government supports local authorities in this endeavour. In particular, smaller municipalities do not always have the capacity to manage the integration of complex systems, while hardware prices make the purchase of cameras affordable. He stressed the importance of discussing the necessity of using technology and of setting up a CCTV system. In Catalonia, it is an independent body that has to approve CCTV systems, and it also rejects requests quite often. As other speakers did, Mr Espadaler Parcerisas said that surveillance at the local level is not only a concern of public authorities, since there are also private cameras and private individuals who publish pictures. Mr Espadaler stressed the importance of regulation as well as support offers that will allow for security and freedom to go hand in hand.

LEEN VEThe Vice President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, Leen Verbeek, stated that enhancing security through technologies such as video surveillance requires safeguards for the respect of fundamental rights. As a King’s Commissioner (governor of a province in the Netherlands) and a mayor, Mr Verbeek said that he welcomed the opportunities offered by technologies for urban security. Speaking in the name of the Congress – a unique representative body of more than 200,000 territorial communities in 47 European states – he said that local elected officials are concerned on a daily basis with the safety of people and that the use of technology for security purposes is now a fact of life. Technology is but a tool and the most important question is how to use it. The trade-off between security and freedom is a key challenge. It is thus essential to have clear, detailed rules on the application of measures of surveillance. Mr Verbeek said that in a context of fast-changing technologies and shifting perceptions, checks and balances, independent oversight and citizen participation are of crucial importance. He stressed that the Charter of the European Forum and the insights of the SURVEILLE project are important contributions in this field.

Concluding the discussion, Mr Pinto said that the European Forum will make use of the insights of both the SURVEILLE project and the panel. Efus will discuss a resolution on the responsible use of technologies for urban security at its general assembly, which will be held on 24 June in Paris. Efus will disseminate these findings and mobilise support at the local, regional, national and European level.

To see the whole debate: