Tech Brief: AI’s treaty delays, facial recognition and scope discussions

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“No regulation is regulation already. Until binding and effective legal instruments are adopted and applied, unacceptable patterns and practices will entrench themselves further.”

 Gregor Strojin, vice-chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee on AI

Story of the week: The European Commission will negotiate the AI Convention on fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy within the Council of Europe on behalf of the EU. It can do so since it has already tabled a proposal in this area, the AI Act. While waiting for a mandate, it has obtained a postponement of the next plenary session from November to January. And on the grounds of the loyal cooperation principle, it has obliged the other EU countries to go into silent mode. Still, it is unclear if the Commission will be able to engage in meaningful negotiations since the AI regulation is still a moving target, and there are already talks of extending the timeline of the committee in charge of drafting the AI treaty.

As EU dynamics hijacked the decision-making process of an independent body, the operation is not without complexity. So far, the AI Act and the treaty have been negotiated by different national ministries, the former focusing on economics and innovation and the latter focusing on justice and fundamental rights. Since the treaty has now become subordinated to the EU’s rulebook, the justice ministries have lost control over the process. Questions are being raised about whether the AI Act provides enough fundamental rights safeguards. Moreover, countries with observer status, like the United States, have taken over the discussion and are now pushing for excluding the private sector from the treaty’s scope. Read more.

Don’t miss: The fact that the EU’s position on Artificial Intelligence is yet to be defined is seen by the Parliament and Council moving in opposite directions regarding the use of biometric recognition systems. After weeks of technical discussions that led to close the first two batches of compromise amendments and part of the third one, the MEPs finally addressed some of the most sensitive topics on Wednesday. The co-rapporteurs have proposed removing all the exceptions to the prohibition on biometric recognition technologies with a wording that extends the ban also to private and online spaces.

The European People’s Party vehemently opposes a complete ban, but according to two parliamentary officials, most political groups are against them. The other controversial topic discussed was the regulation’s scope, but here the discussion was less tense as every group was set to lose (and gain) something from the proposed text. The exemptions of third countries’ public authorities and R&D activities will likely be the part that will see the most refinement in the future. The leading MEPs also proposed extending the EU database for providers of high-risk systems to public bodies, a middle ground between those who want it extended to all users and those who preferred the original text. The next political discussions will likely focus on AI definition, General Purpose AI and Annex III. The technical discussions will continue in parallel. Read more.


Also this week

  • The Italian competition authority lost a major court case against Apple and Amazon.
  • Following the Nord Stream sabotage, Brussels is paying increasing attention to the security of submarine cables.
  • The UK is getting serious about diverging from the GDPR.
  • Six hosting sites for quantum computers in Europe have been announced.
  • Rightsholders are pressuring the Commission to crack down on online piracy.
  • The EU executive outlined a series of results it wants to bring at the next TTC meeting.


Before we start: The Netherlands is a big proponent of using open-source solutions across the board. We have caught up with the Dutch Minister for Digitalisation Alexandra van Huffelen to discuss her views on electronic digital identity, the AI Act and Data Act.


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