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European political agreement paves the way for AI law

The European Union has reached agreement on the world’s first comprehensive artificial intelligence law.

According to the Associated Press, negotiators from the European Parliament and the bloc’s 27 member countries signed a tentative political agreement Friday that will ease passage of the Artificial Intelligence Act.

The European Parliament still has to approve the legislation, but with Friday’s consensus deal, that is believed to be a formality.

In a statement, the press office of the European Parliament said the agreed text will have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and the EU Council to become EU law. Parliament’s Internal Market and Civil Liberties committees will vote on the agreement in a forthcoming meeting.

Once it’s voted on and published in the EU official journal, most of its provisions will come into effect two years later, except for some specific provisions: Bans will apply after six months, while the rules on General Purpose AI will apply after 12 months.

An EU law wouldn’t just affect member countries of the European Union. Any company around the world that collects personal data of European residents and uses a generative AI system for processing data would have to meet its regulations.

Meanwhile, Canada’s proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) is still before the House of Commons industry committee. In the absence of federal legislation, the U.S. is relying on an executive order for AI guidance issued by President Joe Biden.

Following announcement of the EU deal, co-rapporteur Brando Benifei, an Italian member of the EU Parliament (MEP), said that “it was long and intense, but the effort was worth it. Thanks to the European Parliament’s resilience, the world’s first horizontal legislation on artificial intelligence will keep the European promise – ensuring that rights and freedoms are at the centre of the development of this ground-breaking technology. Correct implementation will be key – the Parliament will continue to keep a close eye, to ensure support for new business ideas with sandboxes, and effective rules for the most powerful models”.

Co-rapporteur Dragos Tudorache, a Romanian MEP, said “the EU is the first in the world to set in place robust regulation on AI, guiding its development and evolution in a human-centric direction. The AI Act sets rules for large, powerful AI models, ensuring they do not present systemic risks to the Union and offers strong safeguards for our citizens and our democracies against any abuses of technology by public authorities. It protects our SMEs, strengthens our capacity to innovate and lead in the field of AI, and protects vulnerable sectors of our economy. The European Union has made impressive contributions to the world; the AI Act is another one that will significantly impact our digital future”.

The law prohibits:

  • biometric categorization 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).

According to the EU Parliament press office, negotiators agreed on a series of safeguards and narrow exceptions for the use of biometric identification systems (RBI) in publicly accessible spaces for law enforcement purposes, subject to prior judicial authorisation and for strictly defined lists of crimes. “Post-remote” RBI would be used strictly in the targeted search of a person convicted of or suspected of having committed a serious crime.

“Real-time” RBI 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).

For AI systems classified as high-risk (due to their significant potential harm to health, safety, fundamental rights, environment, democracy and the rule of law), clear obligations were agreed.

MEPs successfully managed to include a mandatory fundamental rights impact assessment, among other requirements, applicable also to the insurance and banking sectors. AI systems used to influence the outcome of elections and voter behaviour are also classified as high-risk. 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.

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