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Italy's personal data collection on Roma should conform to international norms

Thomas Hammarberg [Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe]: "I have been in close contact with the Italian authorities ever since I was informed of violent anti-Roma manifestations in Italy and of the Italian government's decision to adopt new legislative measures concerning, among others, stricter immigration control, Roma and Sinti.

On 19 and 20 June, I paid a visit to Italy during which I held discussions with the Minister of Interior, Mr Roberto Maroni, as well as with representatives of non-governmental and international organizations. On the basis of this visit, I transmitted a memorandum to the Italian authorities with recommendations in order to fully align their policies with the Council of Europe human rights standards.

Censuses of Roma, including their fingerprinting, in three Italian regions have been based on recent emergency legislation adopted by the Italian government. Consistent reports received so far provide grounds for serious concerns as to the lawfulness and non-discriminatory character of these operations.

Being an independent and impartial institution promoting respect of human rights, as embodied in the human rights instruments of the Council of Europe, I should like to recall that Council of Europe, as well as European Union, legislation provides a precise and strict framework concerning the collection and processing of personal data, especially the ones relating to one's ethnic origin ("special" or "sensitive" data). The relevant guidelines are found notably in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, the 1981 Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data and the later European Community Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.

On the basis of these legal sources, the following principles may be usefully recalled:

1. All processing of personal data must be based on a domestic law that satisfies the quality criteria provided for by the European Convention on Human Rights, that is, it should be accessible and foreseeable and afford a degree of effective legal protection against arbitrary interference by the authorities (See Segerstedt-Wiberg and others v. Sweden, judgment of 06 June 2006, paragraphs 74-80.

2. The collection of sensitive data on individuals, such as those relating to their ethnic origin, should be prohibited, as a matter of principle. Exceptions may be provided for by law that conforms to the aforementioned quality criteria and strictly in the cases provided for by Article 8, paragraph 2, of Directive 95/46/EC.

3. There must be limits to the length of time for which once collected information can be retained.

4. All personal data processing operations should be subject to close and effective supervision by independent and impartial data protection authorities.

5. National authorities have an obligation to ensure that these standards are fully respected by the recipients before any personal data are shared with another country."

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