Venice’s mass surveillance system will spoil secret lovers’ paradise


VENICE — Ah, Venice … The world’s favorite romantic getaway means dating, and not always on the rise. For centuries, the city – no small coincidence is the birthplace of legendary lover Casanova – has been a magnet for the romantic affairs of politicians, the Hollywood elite and ordinary people. . Hotels have a long history of offering low-key services, secret entrances, and private dining rooms so couples who shouldn’t be seen together aren’t. The paparazzi know that if there is a rumor about a famous affair, all bets are on that the lovebirds will end up in Venice. George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin were first seen as a couple here and loved the city so much that they returned to get married.

But a new surveillance and tracking system – which would make anonymity in the city impossible – could throw cold water on the hotspot.

The Venetian city government has now started collecting cell phone data from everyone entering the city, without telling them directly. From now on, it will no longer be just masks in shop windows overlooking the streets, as thousands of surveillance cameras have also been installed on ancient palaces, ornate lampposts and on almost all romantic canals. The reason, according to Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro when he recently announced the plan, is to monitor the flow of tourist traffic jams and possibly to control how many people can enter the city.

Next spring, before the tourist season resumes, the city will then begin installing long-awaited turnstiles that keep track of who enters and can be quickly closed to non-residents (who will have a pass to visit them) if the city is judged to be overcapacity. And by next summer, everyone will have to book a reservation – and pay a fee – to even get into the city center, the Venice tourist office told the Daily Beast. And an anonymous “Mr. & Mrs. Jones” will not work as visitors will need to provide valid ID, which means all appointments are canceled.

“Maybe not everyone wants their privacy to be part of a public record.“

The new measures are expected to help stem the influx of mass tourism, which has caused untold damage to the ancient city for decades and something that the Venetians realized they could live without during the pandemic. But it will also scare off privacy-conscious people, an office worker at Ca Maria Adele, a red velvet salon, told The Daily Beast. “Couples often come to Venice to get away from prying eyes and the new measure will force some to reconsider the city as a destination,” she said. “If you know your phone is tracked or you need to register with the city just to come over for a romantic dinner, a lot of people won’t.”

In St Mark’s Square, couples enjoying a late afternoon Spritz on a recent October afternoon had mixed feelings. “If it controls the crowds to make the city livable and more enjoyable to visit, that doesn’t matter,” a Frenchman having drinks with his girlfriend told The Daily Beast. But his girlfriend – who insisted she not be named – categorically disagreed. “Maybe not everyone wants their privacy to be on the public record,” she said. “If the cameras are watching and the phones are being tracked, it could make people very embarrassed. “

And someone is already watching. A control room has been installed near Saint Mark’s Square from which more than a dozen cameras broadcast images on giant screens. Officials watch the screens for crowds and cross-check them with the data they’ve collected from the tracking phones. This data can then be used to paint a demographic picture of who is in Venice by age and nationality, every minute of the day. “It gives us valuable data. We know who was here in the square, where they were before they came here and where they went next, ”Simone Venturini, who heads the Venice tourist office, told the Daily Beast. “Eventually when people have to make a reservation to enter, we’ll have even more data. “

The data will be used to help determine when to close turnstiles and possibly help determine the number of reservations to take for peak hours of the day during peak season. It’s unclear whether the reservation system, once in place, will continue into the off-season, but Venturini says phone data collection and entrance fees will.

The plan to monitor Venetian tourists and bill the equivalent of an entrance fee to the city was due to start last year, after passing the 2019 budget with a price tag of $ 3.5 million, opening the way for the turnstiles to be set up, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed plans. Cruise ship passengers were the main target as they tend to enter the city in massive groups. But from 2021, huge tourist ships are no longer allowed to dock in the downtown Venetian port, forcing many companies to temporarily skip Venice as a stopover.

The first turnstile has already been installed in the Tronchetto district and is being used by selected groups on a trial basis. The others are expected to be installed by September 2022. However, phone data and footage from surveillance cameras are already being collected, which means every stolen kiss or secret date in Europe’s most romantic city does. already part of the public record.

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