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EU countries reach provisional agreement on the Artificial Intelligence Act

The AI Act will be the first law in world to comprehensively address AI governance, while establishing obligations on AI based on risk and impact.

European flag with board in front of dramatic sky

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the European Council reached a “provisional agreement” on the Artificial Intelligence Act (AI) on December 8, 2023. This is the world’s first law to regulate AI systems and establish obligations for AI based on its potential risks and level of impact.

According to the press release shared by the EU Parliament, “this regulation aims to ensure that fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law and environmental sustainability are protected from high risk AI, while boosting innovation.” Accordingly, the MEPs arrived at an agreement on the following decisions.

Biometrics, social scoring, prohibited: Co-legislators banned the following “applications” of AI to protect citizens’ rights and democracy –

  • biometric categorisation systems that use sensitive characteristics (e.g. political, religious, philosophical beliefs, sexual orientation, race);
  • untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases;
  • emotion recognition in the workplace and educational institutions;
  • social scoring based on social behaviour or personal characteristics;
  • AI systems that manipulate human behaviour to circumvent their free will;
  • AI used to exploit the vulnerabilities of people (due to their age, disability, social or economic situation).

Some exemptions to biometrics in policing: Countries agreed on exempting law enforcement agencies from the biometrics identification systems ban in publicly accessible spaces. Negotiators came up with lists of crime for which authorities can ask for a judicial authorisation to use biometric systems. MEPs also drew a distinction between “post-remote” and “real time” biometric identification wherein the former would be used “strictly in the targeted search of a person convicted or suspected of having committed a serious crime.” Meanwhile, “real-time” biometric identification “would comply with strict conditions and its use would be limited in time and location, for the purposes of:

  • targeted searches of victims (abduction, trafficking, sexual exploitation),
  • prevention of a specific and present terrorist threat, or
  • the localisation or identification of a person suspected of having committed one of the specific crimes mentioned in the regulation (e.g. terrorism, trafficking, sexual exploitation, murder, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, participation in a criminal organisation, environmental crime).”

Citizens can demand explanation for AI use: Citizens will have a right to “launch complaints about AI systems and receive explanations about decisions based on high-risk AI systems that impact their rights.” MEPs also agreed on mandatory fundamental rights impact assessment for AI systems classified as high-risk.

Guardrails for general artificial intelligence systems: General-purpose AI (GPAI) systems will have to adhere to transparency requirements as initially proposed by Parliament like, technical documentation, compliance with EU copyright law and dissemination of detailed summaries about the content used for training.

For high-impact GPAI models with systemic risk, entities will have to conduct model evaluations, assess and mitigate systemic risks, conduct adversarial testing, report to the Commission on serious incidents, ensure cybersecurity and report on their energy efficiency.

Penalties ranging from 35 million to 7.5 million euros: Countries agreed that non-compliance with the rules can lead to “fines ranging from 35 million euro or 7% of global turnover to 7.5 million or 1.5 % of turnover, depending on the infringement and size of the company.”

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Earlier in November, more than 30 European digital industry representatives signed a joint statement voicing concern about the potential over-regulation of AI in the EU through the AI Act. In it, representatives had asked the EU to consider a risk-based approach to AI regulation while considering the Bill’s conflicts with existing legislation in various sectors. It is unclear whether these concerns were considered by the MEPs prior to the agreement.

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Written By

I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

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