The European Union’s Proposal to Regulate AI Surveillance

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In a new proposal published on Wednesday, the European Commission has taken a significant step towards curbing mass surveillance, particularly the use of facial recognition technology. The proposed regulations aim to restrict and regulate the indiscriminate surveillance enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) systems. If passed into law, this legislation would not only set a precedent within the EU but also potentially influence countries like the United States and China, which have yet to introduce similar regulations in the field of AI.

Key Provisions of the Legislation

The 108-page draft outlines several key provisions aimed at regulating the development and implementation of AI systems in Europe. Let’s delve into some of the most significant aspects:

Prohibition of Real-Time Remote Biometric Identification Systems

The proposal seeks to prohibit law enforcement agencies from using real-time remote biometric identification systems in publicly accessible spaces. This means that, in most situations, any form of police mass surveillance employing facial recognition or other biometric data would be disallowed. However, it is important to note that certain prohibitions may not apply when implemented by EU governments or public authorities for the purpose of safeguarding public security.

Ban on Social Scoring and Exploitation of Vulnerable Groups

The legislation also includes a ban on public authorities utilizing a “social scoring” system similar to that implemented in China. Furthermore, it prohibits the use of AI systems that exploit vulnerable groups or employ subliminal techniques to materially distort a person’s behavior beyond their consciousness.

Regulation of High-Risk AI Systems

The proposed regulations set standards for “high-risk” AI systems that are intended to be used as a safety component of a product or as the product itself. This encompasses essential infrastructure such as roads, water supply, gas, and electricity. High-risk AI systems must comply with data privacy rules, provide transparent documentation for users, and incorporate human oversight. Failure to meet these requirements could result in significant fines, amounting to either €20 million or 4% of a company’s global annual turnover, whichever is higher.

Creation of the European Artificial Intelligence Board

To ensure compliance and assess risk levels, the legislation establishes a new European Artificial Intelligence Board. This board will be responsible for determining whether an AI system is compliant with the regulations outlined in the proposal. Its decisions will play a crucial role in shaping the future of AI technologies in Europe.

Parallels with GDPR and Potential Impact

Parallels can be drawn between this new legislation and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was introduced in 2016 to address data-collection practices by tech giants. The GDPR has since inspired similar legislation in non-EU countries, fostering accountability in personal data collection. It is likely that the EU’s attempt to regulate and restrict AI will also serve as an inspiration for other countries. In fact, on the same day the EU released its proposal, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission expressed its intent to use existing laws to prohibit unfair or deceptive practices, including the sale of racially biased algorithms.

Concerns and Future Implications

While the proposed legislation is ambitious and commendable, it has raised important questions and concerns regarding potential loopholes and vague language. The exemptions to the rule, such as the use of remote biometric identification systems in cases involving abducted children or serious crimes, have sparked debates. Additionally, the wording around AI systems that “safeguard public security” leaves room for interpretation, potentially allowing military or public security agencies to justify the use of AI systems.

The European Artificial Intelligence Board will play a pivotal role in determining which AI technologies are restricted and which are permitted under the legislation. The board’s composition and decision-making process will significantly impact the outcome.

It is essential to note that the proposed legislation is still in its early stages and will undergo debates and amendments before becoming law. While it is expected that most of the legislation will remain intact, it remains to be seen how the European Commission will address concerns regarding the vague wording and exceptions that could undermine the efforts to rein in AI surveillance.


The European Union’s proposal to regulate AI surveillance marks a significant step towards protecting individual privacy and curbing the potential misuse of artificial intelligence. If implemented, this legislation would restrict the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, ban social scoring systems, and establish stringent regulations for high-risk AI systems. The creation of the European Artificial Intelligence Board will provide oversight and decision-making authority to ensure compliance and assess the risk levels of AI technologies. While concerns and debates surround certain aspects of the legislation, it represents a bold move towards responsible AI deployment and could potentially inspire similar regulations globally.

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