The European Commission (EC) approved on Wednesday a regulation to ban the use in public spaces of artificial intelligence systems that allow biometric identification – facial recognition devices or fingerprints -, considering that it is a high-risk technology that violates the values and fundamental rights of the EU.

Biometrics is a technology by which it is possible to identify a person by his or her biophysical characteristics.
Artificial intelligence (AI) offers “immense potential in areas as diverse as healthcare, transport, energy, agriculture, tourism or cybersecurity,” but it also presents a number of risks and the “proposal ensures that it respects our values and rules,” said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton.

However, Brussels has introduced exceptions to the rules and will allow the use of biometric identification in public spaces when it can help prevent an “imminent” terrorist attack or find a missing child, subject to judicial authorization.

“By setting the standards, we can pave the way for ethical technology worldwide and ensure that the EU remains competitive,” said EC Vice President for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager.

In addition, the EU executive also wants to ban the use of artificial intelligence systems that use “subliminal techniques (…) to materially distort a person’s behavior in a way that may cause physical or psychological harm,” the regulation reads.

Fines for those in breach of these rules could reach a maximum of 6% of annual worldwide revenues or a maximum of €30 million, depending on which of the two criteria is higher, and will apply to all providers or users inside and outside the EU.

Technologies that can be used to dispatch emergency services (such as firefighters); those used for the recruitment of people; crime prevention or the screening of asylum seekers will also be considered high-risk technologies.

In all these cases, however, it will be the providers themselves who will be able to assess whether they comply with the rules.

The Commission wants to create the European Board of Artificial Intelligence, formed by the supervisory authorities of the Member States and the Community Executive itself, which will be responsible for monitoring compliance with this regulation.

The proposal expressly excludes artificial intelligence systems used for military purposes.

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