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  • Vishal Narayan

EU approves groundbreaking AI Act; bans biometric, facial recognition systems for policing

European Parliament has approved an Artificial Intelligence Act, one of the most sweeping globally, with ban on AI in biometrics and facial recognition technology for policing.

The regulation on Tuesday was endorsed by Members of European Parliament with 523 voting in favour, 46 against, and 49 abstaining.

The new rules ban AI apps, such as those enable biometric categorisation systems and scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases.

"Emotion recognition in the workplace and schools, social scoring, predictive policing (when it is based solely on profiling a person or assessing their characteristics), and AI that manipulates human behaviour or exploits people’s vulnerabilities will also be forbidden," the European Parliament said in a press release.

The European body said with the new rules it aims to protect "fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law and environmental sustainability from high-risk AI" while still allowing the technology enough room to flourish.    

According to new rules, the use of biometrics, or facial recognition systems, in policing is banned in principle, and is only allowed under strict cases, such as while looking for a missing person or to prevent a terrorist attack.

The new laws also make it incumbent on general purpose AI tools to follow strict compliance, which includes publishing of training material and assessment of the models, as well as reporting of incidents.

"Additionally, artificial or manipulated images, audio or video content (deepfakes) need to be clearly labelled as such," it said.

An EU official called the rules the world's first ever "binding law" on AI, and announced there will be set up soon an AI Office to monitor compliance.

"We finally have the world’s first binding law on artificial intelligence, to reduce risks, create opportunities, combat discrimination, and bring transparency. Thanks to Parliament, unacceptable AI practices will be banned in Europe and the rights of workers and citizens will be protected," the Internal Market Committee co-rapporteur Brando Benifei (S&D, Italy) said on Tuesday during plenary debate.

He added, "The AI Office will now be set up to support companies to start complying with the rules before they enter into force. We ensured that human beings and European values are at the very centre of AI’s development."

The new Act is still subject to a "lawyer-linguist" check and will come into force in the next few months. It is also yet to be formally endorsed by the European Council. 

The swift pace of AI development has sent lawmakers across the world in an overdrive to come up with regulations to stem the technology's obvious misuses.

India last month announced it will come up with its own AI Act by June-July.   


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