Working on the balance of AI. While governments and private sector are looking forward to expanding control, EU Parliament works to guarantee civil rights

London, 30 May 2022 – While EU acknowledged Artificial Intelligence potential benefits in crucial sectors such as health, climate change, environment, mobility, home affairs and agriculture, the Parliament reckons that “the same elements and techniques that power the socio-economic benefits of AI can also bring about new risks or negative consequences for individuals or the society”.

The new AI legislation is making its legislative course after Commission proposal, which bans the use of AI for mass surveillance (but with exceptions), was introduced last year; now MEPs and Council are laying down ‘harmonised rules’ to the Artificial Intelligence Act through amendments.

The new set of regulations must be in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the existing secondary Union legislation on data protection, consumer protection, non-discrimination and gender equality, that’s why the ongoing debate on the high-risks of this technology and its impact on individual and social freedoms is set to last very long.

The fact governments are set to use AI for mass surveillance, prediction/prevention and repression of freedom of speech and political opposition, and the fact that in EU neighbouring countries such as UK the future regulations will not apply raises huge concerns.

In view of EU as a safe region where AI can be used while safeguarding citizens from governments repression and social control, MEPs are, among the other many issues, evaluating AI systems use in public spaces, algorithmic discrimination, and restrictions on certain uses of remote biometric identification systems. 

How businesses and governments would be expected to comply: private and public authorities that develop or use AI tools at high risk for the safety or fundamental rights of citizens would have to comply with specific requirements and obligations with costs amounting to approximately €6000 to €7000 for the supply of an average high-risk AI system of around €170.000 by 2025. For AI users there would also be the annual cost for the time spent on ensuring human oversight where this is appropriate, depending on the use case. Those have been estimated at approximately €5000 to €8000 per year. Verification costs could amount to €3000 to €7500 for suppliers of high-risk AI.

The amendments EU Parliament Civil liberties LIBE and the .. committees will have to ensure the new set of AI regulations will comply with right to human dignity, respect for private and family life, protection of personal data, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and of association, and non-discrimination, consumer protection, workers’ rights, rights of persons with disabilities, right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial, right of defence and the presumption of innocence, right to good administration.

The vote of the Plenary on the Artificial Intelligence Act is expected in October 2022, meanwhile the Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) is working along with the LIBE Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Internal Market and Consumer Protection drafting and endless list of amendments.

Brando Benifei (S&D) and Dragoş Tudorache (Renew Europe) are the co-rapporteurs on AI Act who drafted the report with the amendments to the Commission proposal.

Both use the key word balance to highlight the challenges EU Parliament is facing to allow innovation and protect individual and civil rights: “As the heart of European democracy – said Tudorache – EU parliament has a key role to play: we need to find the right balance between enhancing the protection of our fundamental rights and boosting Europe’s competitiveness and capacity to innovate.”

Talking about the use of facial recognition by authorities Benifei stressed: “the issue is raising fierce debate. Personally I would ban AI use of surveillance, at present it is banned but with many exception which i would eliminate. EU council is instead going the opposite direction of the original [Commission] text now being discussed- while speaking at the Wired Fest 2022, the Italian MEP explained “the problem is that the abuse of these technologies is real danger: they could be used to target protesters over political issues such as the right to abortion accusing them of attacks to the government; a threat to citizen’s rights we can’t underestimate.”