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EU Parliament signs off on Artificial Intelligence Act

The new law bans a suite of AI applications, including using CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases.

user icon David Hollingworth
Thu, 14 Mar 2024
EU Parliament signs off on Artificial Intelligence Act
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The Parliament of the European Union has approved a landmark Artificial Intelligence Act in a landslide of votes.

A total of 523 members voted in favour of the act, a mere 46 against, and with 49 MEPs abstaining from the vote.

The new act bans several applications of AI, particularly ones that “threaten citizens’ rights”, according to a statement by the European Parliament.


Biometrics based on “sensitive characteristics” are now illegal, as is the scraping of images from CCTV to build facial recognition databases. AI that can manipulate real people and exploit the vulnerable is now banned, along with social scoring, predictive policing, and emotion recognition in schools and workplaces.

There are, however, some exemptions for law enforcement.

“The use of biometric identification systems (RBI) by law enforcement is prohibited in principle, except in exhaustively listed and narrowly defined situations,” a release from the European Parliament read. “‘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.”

The act also includes several obligations when it comes to “high-risk systems”, such as using AI in conjunction with critical infrastructure, healthcare, democratic processes, and the justice system. Any such system “must assess and reduce risks, maintain use logs, be transparent and accurate, and ensure human oversight”.

General-purpose AI systems and the models used to train them must also maintain a level of transparency in line with EU laws, while images, video, or audio content created by AI must be marked as such.

Internal market committee co-rapporteur Brando Benifei of Italy is proud of the law, the first of its kind to be enacted by any government.

“We finally have the world’s first binding law on artificial intelligence to reduce risks, create opportunities, combat discrimination, and bring transparency,” Benifei said. “Thanks to Parliament, unacceptable AI practices will be banned in Europe, and the rights of workers and citizens will be protected. 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.”

However, Neil Thacker, chief information security officer for EMEA at Netskope, said the new law needs to balance the ethics of AI with the need to innovate and develop the technology successfully.

“With the growing presence of AI in all aspects of daily life, the question of legal frameworks has become urgent and necessary in order to regulate its uses and protect data. However, it is essential that this is done with precise and transparent legal precepts that evolve with the technologies so that we strike the right balance of enabling innovation while respecting ethical principles. The EU has moved fast in bringing about this legislation, which is now the first general AI legislation on the books globally,” Thacker said via email.

“Informed decision making is crucial to implementing AI that is ethical and meets the requirements of the new law. Knowing and documenting the use of both machine learning and AI systems within an organisation is a simple way to understand and anticipate vulnerabilities to business-critical data while ensuring responsible use of AI.”

While the act has been officially approved, it still needs to go through a “lawyer-linguist” check, and then be formally endorsed by the European Council. The law will come into force 20 days after its publication.

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth has been writing about technology for over 20 years, and has worked for a range of print and online titles in his career. He is enjoying getting to grips with cyber security, especially when it lets him talk about Lego.

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