European Parliament approves AI Act

On 13 March 2024, the European Parliament approved the EU’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act. The text was agreed in negotiations with EU member states in December 2023 and has now been endorsed by members of the European Parliament. The new law aims to protect fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law and environmental sustainability from high-risk artificial intelligence systems while boosting innovation and establishing Europe as a leader in the field of AI.

Banned applications

The new rules ban certain AI applications that threaten citizens’ rights, including biometric categorisation systems based on sensitive characteristics and untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases. Emotion recognition in the workplace and in schools, social scoring, predictive policing (when 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.

Law enforcement exemptions

The use of biometric identification systems (RBI) by law enforcement agencies is prohibited in principle, except in exhaustively listed and narrowly defined situations. “Real-time” RBI can only be deployed if strict safeguards are met, e.g. its use is limited in time and geographic scope and subject to specific prior judicial or administrative authorisation. Such uses may include, for example, a targeted search of a missing person or preventing a terrorist attack. Using such systems post-facto (“post-remote RBI”) is considered to be a high-risk use case and requires authorisation from a judicial body, such as a judge, before being allowed.

Obligations for high-risk systems

Clear obligations are also foreseen for other high-risk AI systems due to their significant potential harm to health, safety, fundamental rights, the environment, democracy and the rule of law. Examples of high-risk AI uses include critical infrastructure, education and vocational training, employment, essential private and public services (e.g. healthcare, banking), certain systems in law enforcement, migration and border management, justice and democratic processes (e.g. influencing elections). Such high-risk systems must assess and reduce risks, maintain use logs, be transparent and accurate, and ensure human oversight. Citizens will have a right to submit complaints about AI systems and receive explanations about decisions based on high-risk AI systems that affect their rights.

Transparency requirements

General-purpose AI (GPAI) systems, and the GPAI models they are based on, must meet certain transparency requirements, including compliance with European copyright law and publishing detailed summaries of the content used for training. The more powerful GPAI models that could pose systemic risks will face additional requirements, including performing model evaluations, assessing and mitigating systemic risks, and reporting on incidents. In addition, artificial or manipulated images, audio or video content (so-called “deepfakes”) need to be clearly labelled as such.

Measures to support innovation and SMEs

One of the most positive aspects of the regulation is the introduction of “regulatory sandboxes” to enable real-world testing of AI systems. These sandboxes will be established at the national level, and made accessible to SMEs and start-ups, to enable them to develop and train innovative AI systems before placing them on the market.

Next steps

The regulation will enter into force twenty days after its publication in the Official Journal, and be fully applicable 24 months after it enters into force. Some provisions will enter into force earlier, for example: bans on prohibited practices, which will apply six months after the entry into force date; codes of practice (nine months after entry into force); general-purpose AI rules including governance (12 months after entry into force); and obligations for high-risk systems (36 months).

Attorneys at Sonnenberg Harrison are following developments in artificial intelligence and can help you navigate through the maze of regulations that are appearing. Get in touch if you have any questions.

Dr. Robert Harrison
(based on a Press Release from the European Parliament)