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EU passes landmark AI law

The regulation is designed to ensure the technology remains safe and upholds human rights, according to lawmakers

The EU Parliament on Wednesday approved a regulation called the Artificial Intelligence Act aimed at ensuring the fast-changing technology remains safe and in compliance with fundamental human rights but also boosts innovation. 

The regulation, agreed in negotiations with member states this past December, was endorsed by MEPs with 523 votes in favor, 46 against, and 49 abstentions, according to a press release on the parliament’s website. 

“Europe is NOW a global standard-setter in AI,” Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the internal market, wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

According to the report, the legislation divides the technology into categories of risk, ranging from “unacceptable” — which would see the certain applications banned — to high, medium, and low hazard.

The new rules ban certain AI applications that threaten the rights of citizens, such as biometric categorization systems based on sensitive characteristics and untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases. Emotion recognition at workplaces and in schools, social scoring, predictive policing (when it is based solely on profiling a person or assessing their characteristics), and AI that manipulates human behavior or exploits people’s vulnerabilities will also be forbidden.

🇪🇺 Democracy: 1️⃣ | Lobby: 0️⃣

I welcome the overwhelming support from European Parliament for our #AIAct —the world’s 1st comprehensive, binding rules for trusted AI.

Europe is NOW a global standard-setter in AI.

We are regulating as little as possible — but as much as needed! pic.twitter.com/t4ahAwkaSn

— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 13, 2024

The AI Act also prohibits in principle the use of biometric identification systems (RBI) by law enforcement, except in exhaustively listed and narrowly defined situations. ‘Real-time’ RBI can only be deployed if strict safeguards are met. 

“We finally have the world’s first binding law on artificial intelligence, to reduce risks, create opportunities, combat discrimination, and bring transparency,” Internal Market Committee co-rapporteur Brando Benifei said during the plenary debate on Tuesday. He emphasized that unacceptable AI practices will now be banned in the EU and the rights of workers and citizens protected.

The regulation is expected to enter into force at the end of the legislature in May, after passing final checks and receiving endorsement from the European Council.

The EU AI Act comes amid mounting global concerns over the potential for abuse of the technology, including the possibility of ‘deepfakes’ or such forms of artificial intelligence that generate false events, including photos and videos. Some countries, including China and India, have been issuing guidelines for regulating AI. Some US cities and states have also passed legislation restricting use of the technology in certain areas such as police investigations and hiring.

 

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