In May 2008 the Italian government declared a state of emergency with regard to so-called “Nomads,” i.e. ethnic Roma and Sinti. Using emergency powers granted to them, local prefects conducted a census of Roma by taking fingerprints, photographs and other personal information. The Justice Initiative worked with Italian NGOs to bring a legal challenge to the Roma census on behalf of Elviz Salkanovic from the Casilino 900 encampment which was bulldozed by the government. In May 2013, the Rome civil court upheld Salkanovic’s challenge. It ruled that the census of thousands of ethnic Roma including Salkanovic violated anti-discrimination law, the first time that an Italian court recognized that the Nomad Emergency Measures amounted to racial discrimination. The court ordered Italy’s Ministry of the Interior to destroy Salkanovic’s data and to pay him compensation. However, the court failed to recognize the collective nature of the complaint and refused to order relief to the thousands of victims whose personal data continue to be held by the government. The Italian authorities still retain census information on Roma in a database.
Elviz Salkanovic is an Italian citizen of Roma ethnic origin who had lived in the Roma encampment “Casilino 900” from 1989 until 2009 when he was forcibly evicted and the encampment was bulldozed by the government, leaving 1,000 ethnic Roma homeless.
In May 2008 the Italian government had declared a state of emergency with regard to so-called Nomads (i.e. ethnic Roma and Sinti) which lasted until December 2011. Pursuant to the declared emergency, the government granted emergency powers to local prefects in the Campania, Lazio, Lombardia, Piedmont and Veneto regions.
In July 2009, the Italian parliament adopted Law 94/2009 on Provisions Relating to Public Safety making it a criminal offence for ethnic Roma not to hold a valid residence permit.
As part of the emergency measures, the government created a census of ethnic Roma in Italy that included the collection of fingerprints, photographs and other personal information. According to the Ministry of the Interior, during the first year of the so-called emergency, 167 Roma camps were subjected to the census, and identity checks were performed on 12,346 people.
After the “Casilino 900” encampment was bulldozed, Mr. Salkanovic was required to participate in the Roma census in order to secure public housing. Evidence shows that the data from the Roma census have subsequently been used for additional purposes, including by immigration authorities and law enforcement.
In June 2012, the Justice Initiative together with Italian NGOs Associazione 21 Luglio and Associazion Studi Giuridici Sull’Immigrazione filed a petition on behalf of Salkanovic against the government with the Civil Court of Rome, seeking a declaration that the Roma census violated Italian and EU antidiscrimination and data protection law.
Violation of the Right to Privacy. The Roma census violated the EU Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC which prescribes limited grounds for the processing of sensitive personal data. The Roma census was not for a legitimate purpose and authorities did not obtain consent from Salkanovic. Further, the data was collected without the safeguards required by EU law.
Violation of Antidiscrimination Law. The Nomad Emergency Measures, including the Roma census, violated EU Race Equality Directive 2000/43/EC and Italian antidiscrimination law. The measures amount to direct and indirect discrimination and harassment, as defined in Article 2 RED.
May 2008. Nomad Emergency Decree and implementing ordinances introduced.
May 2008. Italian Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni calls for the dismantling of Roma camps and for their inhabitants to be expelled or incarcerated.
November 2011. Italy’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, strikes down the Nomad Emergency Decree, its implementing ordinances and the 2009 and 2010 prolongation decrees on the ground that they are not premised upon a genuine emergency connected to the presence of Romani and Sinti people.
November 2011. In separate proceedings, the Administrative Tribunal of Latium orders that Salkanovic should be given access his personal data, including fingerprints and photographs of him and his family, detained by the Police Headquarters of Rome. As a result, Salkanovic gained access to his fingerprints and other sensitive personal data, thereby demonstrating that the Italian government’s claims to have destroyed the data are false.
February 2012. The Italian government appeals the Council of State decision to the Supreme Court of Cassation, which suspends the Council of State decision pending appeal.
June 2012. Salkanovic and three NGOs file application with the Civil Court of Rome.
May 2013. The Supreme Court of Cassation rejects the government’s appeal against the 2011 ruling of the Council of State. The ruling is a final determination that the Nomad Emergency Measures are unlawful.
May 24, 2013. The Tribunal of Rome finds that Salkanovic has been discriminated against on the basis of his Roma ethnicity. The court orders the Ministry of the Interior to destroy the personal data of Salkanovic, pay him 8,000 euros in moral damages, and pay for the publication of the ruling in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
On May 24, 2013, the Rome Civil Court gave judgment. The Court placed great weight on an earlier decision by the Council of State which held that the relevant Prime Ministerial decrees were null and void, as the orders to take photographs and fingerprints did not consider the necessity of such actions, and there was no link between the stated purpose of the measures – to protect the population from a dangerous situation – and the general existence of the Roma camps. However, the Council of State had found that the orders were not discriminatory, as their purpose was not to ghettoize the Roma population, but to deal with a “socially alarming situation”. The Council of State had also found that the orders did not target Roma in particular, as they applied to all within the camps.
The Rome Civil Court followed the Council of State and declined to find that the taking and retention of Roma census data were generally discriminatory. However, with respect to the individual case of Mr. Salkanovic, the Court found that the measures were discriminatory, as they were directed against Roma persons, and that they were not necessary, given that Mr. Salkanovic was an Italian citizen who did not need to be further identified through photographs and fingerprints.
The Court found that the discrimination had the effect of violating the dignity of Elviz Salkanovic, and ordered destruction of the relevant data, the payment of €8,000 damages, and the publication of the judgment in an Italian newspaper.
On December 10, 2013, the Ministry of Interior paid €8,000 in compensation to Elviz Salkanovic. Two months later they confirmed destruction of his census data.
However, this decision failed to find the general discriminatory effect of the Roma census data, or order its general destruction. Save for this individual decision, the broader goal of its destruction is outstanding. The Justice Initiatives understands that data are still retained in Rome and Naples (in Milan it has been ordered to be destroyed). The Italian Coalition of Civil Liberties (CILD), a network of civil society groups, has undertaken the task of working towards this broader aim, primarily through targeted advocacy of the Italian Data Protection Authority, the Ministry of Interior, local government, the Ministers of Parliament. This may involve future litigation.