In Brussels, governments and parliament discuss a law on artificial intelligence
The German government is committed to improving facial recognition procedures throughout the EU with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Such systems should admittedly not be able to be used by the police in real time. In investigations, however, the authorities should be allowed to search existing image material with special software.
This is the result of a document published on Monday by the civil rights organisation Digitalcourage from Bielefeld. It is a position paper of the German government on the „Artificial Intelligence Act“, which is currently being negotiated at the EU level.
The EU Commission had presented a corresponding proposal for such an „AI Regulation“ in April 2021. The aim is to promote the development of AI as an economic factor, but at the same time to put down stakes for the protection of fundamental rights. For example, the Commission wants to prevent the merging of data from different sources of individuals by software. This method is called „profiling“.
As is usual with EU legislation, the proposal was first discussed by the 27 member states. In early December, the Council adopted its position on this and watered down the original text in crucial places.
For example, the Commission wanted to classify the use of AI by police or migration authorities as „high risk“ and only allow it in exceptional cases. However, the German government, among others, lobbied for the use of AI by authorities to be completely removed from the regulation and regulated by a separate law.
The civil rights organisation Algorithmwatch, which specialises in AI, clearly criticised this at the beginning of December. According to the organisation, the thresholds for using the software should be particularly high in the areas of law enforcement, migration, asylum and border protection, as those affected are often hardly able to defend themselves and would be discriminated against anyway. „State action here can have a massive impact on people’s freedom, autonomy and well-being,“ says the Berlin-based non-profit organisation.
In the planned regulation, facial recognition in public spaces is described as „remote biometric identification“ in „real time“. The use of the technology in investigations is described as „retrograde biometric identification“.
The term technique refers to measures such as those currently being carried out after the New Year’s Eve in Berlin. For this purpose, the police can compare pictures and videos of unknown suspects with police databases or assign different offences to the persons. The police authorities of the Länder use a database at the BKA for this, in which facial images of 3.6 million people are stored.
With its position on the „AI Act“, the German government is breaking its promises from the coalition agreement, criticises Digitalcourage. „Biometric recognition in public spaces as well as automated state scoring systems through AI are to be excluded under European law,“ the three parties had actually announced there.
Following the Council’s „general approach“ to the planned EU regulation, the ball is now in the Parliament’s court, which has begun its first deliberations on the law. There, a majority for a ban on facial recognition without exceptions is emerging. Allegedly, the MEPs of the lead committees for Internal Market and Legal Affairs have already drafted 3.000 amendments.
However, the demanded amendments also affect other areas of the „AI Act“, where the MEPs can hope for support from the German government. The position paper from Berlin also proposes to ban AI in criminal proceedings in principle. This refers to software that predicts the recidivism of offenders.
From Germany’s point of view, lie detectors should also be completely excluded from the regulation. Such technology, based on emotion recognition, has already been tested by the border agency Frontex. Finally, Berlin also wants to exclude intelligent scoring of debtors or claims to social housing by EU law, as the group of people affected by this is particularly in need of protection.
However, a loophole the size of a barn door for the use of artificial intelligence for all forms of surveillance remains for secret services, which, according to the EU treaties, are generally not affected by regulations from Brussels.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: This is how the company NEC promotes their facial recognition technology (CC-BY 2.0 NEC Corporation of America).
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