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Pirates: Commission’s proposal for regulation on AI opens door for biometric mass surveillance in public spaces

Today, the European Commission published its proposal for a regulation on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). While the Pirate Delegation in the Greens/EFA group welcomes rules and restrictions for new technologies, the text creates a legal basis for Member States to implement biometric mass surveillance in public spaces on a broad scale. Error-prone surveillance systems threaten civil liberties of EU citizens, indiscriminately target minorities and must be fully banned.

Patrick Breyer, German Pirate Member of the European Parliament, comments:

“We must seize the opportunity to let the European Union bring artificial intelligence in line with ethical requirements and democratic values. Unfortunately, the Commission’s proposal fails to protect us from the dangers gender justice and equal treatment of all groups, such as through facial recognition systems or other kinds of mass surveillance.

“Biometric and mass surveillance, profiling and behavioral prediction technology in our public spaces undermines our freedom and threatens our open societies. The European Commission’s proposal would bring the high-risk use of automatic facial recognition in public spaces to the entire European Union, contrary to the will of the majority of our people. The proposed procedural requirements are a mere smokescreen. We cannot allow the discrimination of certain groups of people and the false incrimination of countless individuals by these technologies.”

Marcel Kolaja, Czech Pirate MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament, elaborates:

“The Commission’s plan on AI still leaves some loopholes. Even though the Commission pretends that practices such as biometric identification are banned, in reality, wide exemptions still remain. But these practices could easily be exploited by governments and lead to mass surveillance. And that is unacceptable for us. We have to set clear rules for AI that will protect the freedom of our citizens and will not discriminate against anyone of them. Once the proposal comes to “our table” in the Parliament, I will work to bring the necessary adjustments to the regulation.”

For Czech Pirate MEP Markéta Gregorová, the proposal is failing at its main tasks:

„The European Union must become a leader in the development, research and use of artificial intelligence without creating a digital mass-surveillance dystopia as we see happening in authoritarian regimes around the world. European governments, militaries and businesses have no choice but to advance on artificial intelligence in order to be able to continue to do their tasks and remain competitive. The legal environment must therefore allow this to happen, while the right safeguards on the most risky and negative uses of AI must be strictly enforced without possible loopholes. Lots of work from the European Parliament remains to be done on this upcoming law.“

Furthermore, non-personal data required to train AI systems must be publicly available, says Czech Pirate MEP Mikuláš Peksa:

“While protecting the privacy of our citizens, we shall provide space for development of start-ups, small and medium enterprises and for scientific research. The non-personal data created by means of taxpayers’ resources shall be made available following the principle: public money – public data. The datasets necessary to train artificial intelligence shall be available to every citizen in order to foster technological development.”

Last week, 39 MEPs co-signed an Open Letter by Pirate MEP Patrick Breyer calling on the European Commission to revise an earlier version of the proposal, which was leaked to the media, and ban biometric mass surveillance. Furthermore, a representative survey conducted by YouGov in 10 EU countries reveals that a majority of EU citizens (55%) reject the use of biometric mass surveillance in public spaces. The opposition to facial recognition systems was even higher (61%) among young respondents aged 18-34. The poll was commissioned by the Pirates.

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