Artificial intelligence in the EU: promoting economy at the expenses of the rights of the individual?

by Emilio DE CAPITANI (*)[1]

“The advent of artificial intelligence (‘AI’) systems is a very important step in the evolution of technologies and in the way humans interact with them. AI is a set of key technologies that will profoundly alter our daily lives, be it on a societal or an economic standpoint. In the next few years, decisive decisions are expected for AI as it helps us overcome some of the biggest challenges we face in many areas today, ranging from health to mobility, or from public administration to education. However, these promised advances do not come without risks. Indeed, the risks are very relevant considering that the individual and societal effects of AI systems are, to a large extent, unexperienced.…”[2]

Foreword

1. According to the European Commission the recent proposal for a regulation on Artificial Intelligence is consistent with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the secondary EU legislation on data protection, consumer protection, non-discrimination and gender equality. Notably, it “complements” the General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/679) and the Law Enforcement Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/680) by setting “..harmonised rules applicable to the design, development and use of certain high-risk AI systems and restrictions on certain uses of remote biometric identification systems”.

Is it true or the text is mainly economic oriented and fail to place the rights of those who will be subject to such AI systems at the heart of its reflection?

2. First of all it is worth noting that, while some commentators may have considered this new proposal to be the equivalent of the General Data Protection Regulation for AI, its general scheme is much more similar to Regulation (EU) 2019/1020 of 20 June 2019 on market surveillance and product compliance, the objective of which is to improve the internal market by strengthening market surveillance of products covered by Union legislation instead of protecting or promoting fundamental rights. The Commission’s proposal is essentially aimed at holding companies producing and marketing AI systems accountable, which is in itself a positive element in the context of the establishment of a European normative framework on artificial intelligence. According to EC Proposal AI systems must meet a number of criteria and undergo conformity assessment procedures, which are more or less stringent depending on the risks involved (see Articles 8 to 51 and Annexes IV to VIII [3]

3. However,  it is quite surprising that the proposal is focused only on a “product”, (a “software” developed from techniques and approaches listed in an annex) and does not address the general notions of “algorithms” and “big data” which are the main feature artificial intelligence (AI) applications which needs huge amounts of data necessary to train it and it allowing, in return, to process the same data.  By not referring directly on the nature of algorithms or the notion of big data, the Commission avoid placing the AI applications within the general framework of fundamental rights and data protection. Needless to say, a “right-based” approach is specular to the notion of ”duty” to protect that right by another individual or by the public administration. Take the case of Regulation 2016/679 or of Directive 2016/680 where the “rights of the data subject” are detailed in specific chapter whereas there is no similar provision in the AI proposal. Similarly, if the proposal defines AI system providers (“providers”), users (“users”), importers (“importers”) and distributors (“distributors”), it makes no reference at any time to persons who are subject to such systems. Moreover nothing, in particular, is said about the possible possibilities of recourse of individuals challenging the use of an AI system.

By choosing a market centric approach the Commission is undermining the aim of placing the individual at the core of the EU policies as declared in the EU Charter preamble. 

I- Definitions and classifications

4. The proposal is built on a risk-based approach, but the classification of the systems as unacceptable, high or low is not clear:

– Article 6 on the classification of high-risk systems is a simple description of the systems falling within this category, without justification of the reasons for the choices made,

– Article 7, on the “amendments to Annex III”, which is the annex containing the systems considered to be high risk, does, however, contain a number of criteria which the Commission will have to take into account in order to add other systems in the future, if necessary.- However, the terms chosen lack precision: the systems referred to are those likely to harm health, safety or have a negative effect on fundamental rights («risque of adverse impact on fundamental rights»). But how to understand in this context the concept of negative effect?

5. The breakdown between the systems to be prohibited and those with a high risk is not further explained: why, for example, prohibit real-time remote facial recognition in public places for repressive purposes, But to authorize, considering them at high risk, the systems that, in terms of criminal prosecutions or management of migration, asylum and border control aim to detect the emotional state of a person? Similarly, what about systems that generate or manipulate audio or video content or images, which then appear to be falsely authentic, and which can be used in criminal proceedings without informing persons (section 52)?

6. Above all, this approach suggests that respect for fundamental rights may be variable in geometry, even though fundamental rights are not negotiable and must also be guaranteed, regardless of the level of risk presented by the AI system in question.[4]

II- Articulation with data protection 

7. In this proposal, the Commission’s position on the European data protection framework is characterized by its ambiguity:

–  Article 16 TFEU is one of the two legal bases of the proposal, alongside Article 114 TFEU. However, in its statement of reasons, the Commission is careful to point out that the basis of Article 16 concerns only those provisions relating to restrictions on the use of AI systems with regard to remote biometric identification in places accessible to the public and for the purposes of criminal proceedings (point 2.1. See also recital 2 of the proposal). However, the protection of individuals about the processing of their personal data cannot be limited to this single hypothesis, given the operating modalities of AI systems which, as indicated above, are based on massive data collections, which are not all non-personal or anonymized. In addition, anonymized data may in some cases be re-identified, and an interlaced set of non-personal data may identify individuals. In addition, anonymized data can be used to build profiles and have a direct impact on the privacy of individuals and create discrimination.

– Recital 41 states that the new Regulation should not be understood as constituting a legal basis for the processing of personal data, including special categories of data. Nevertheless, under recital 41 above, the classification of an AI system as high risk does not imply that its use is necessarily lawful under other European legislation, in particular those relating to the protection of personal data, and the use of polygraphs and similar tools or other systems to detect the emotional state of individuals. That recital specifies to that end that such use should continue to occur only in accordance with the applicable requirements resulting from the Charter and Union law. It therefore seems to follow that certain provisions of this proposal may prove to be incompatible with other provisions of European law: far from «supplementing» the legislative framework on data protection, the future regulation may, on the contrary, open the way to situations of conflict of laws.

– on the other hand, recital 72 states that this Regulation should provide the legal basis for the use of personal data collected for other purposes with a view to developing certain AI systems in the public interest in the case of AI regulatory “sandboxes”. However, as reminded above the Commission also states in its explanatory statement that this proposal is without prejudice to and complements the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 and Police Directive 2016/68 (point 1.2).

8. Furthermore, if certain AI systems authorized by this proposal are not to be approved because they would infringe the provisions of the Charter and European data protection law, this raises the question of the relevance of the proposed classification, if it legitimizes systems contrary to fundamental rights in general, and to data protection in particular. But who will decide at EU and national level which rule should prevail between the Data Protection and AI Regulations? The establishment of a new committee, the European Artificial Intelligence Committee, and the creation of national authorities responsible for ensuring the application of the proposal (Articles 56 to 59) risks to become a conflicting structure with the parallel decentralized structure for Data Protection and its European Data Protection Board and the EDPS [5].

III- Prohibitions and their limits

9. In a very symbolic way, the proposal opens, after a first title relating to the general provisions, with a title entitled “prohibited artificial intelligence practices”, which in reality only contains a single article, while the next title on high-risk systems consists of 46 articles.

There are four systems considered unacceptable:

–  systems deploying subliminal techniques to distort a person’s behavior in a manner that causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological harm to the person or to another person;

– systems exploiting the vulnerabilities of a specific group of people due to their age, physical or mental disability, to distort the behavior of a person belonging to that group in a manner that causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological harm;

– systems used by public authorities for the evaluation or classification of the reliability of individuals over a period of time based on their social behavior or known or predicted personal or personality characteristics, with the establishment of a social score (“social score”) leading to one or both of the following: adverse or adverse treatment of persons in social contexts unrelated to the contexts in which the data were initially generated or collected; or/and adverse or adverse treatment of persons that is unjustified or disproportionate to their behavior or the seriousness of their behavior;

–  ‘real-time’ remote biometric identification systems in public spaces in a criminal context, unless and to the extent that such use is strictly necessary for one of the following purposes: the targeted search for potential victims of an offence, the prevention of a specific, serious and imminent threat to the life or safety of persons, or of a terrorist attack, the search, location, the identification or prosecution of the offender or a suspect, where the maximum penalty for the offence is at least three years.

10. It follows from this list that the prohibitions mentioned are subject to several limitations and prohibitions:

– in the case of the first two prohibitions, they both imply at least the possibility of physical or psychological harm. However, with regard to vulnerable persons, the demonstration of the existence of a possibility of harm may be sensitive,

– with regard to the prohibition of the social score, it is envisaged only to the extent that this score is established by public authorities (and not private entities) and leads to unfavorable treatment in a context unrelated to the context from which the data were collected or in cases where such treatment appears disproportionate. The reading of these conditions reveals that in reality the social score is not prohibited as such. This analysis is confirmed by the review of Annex III, which includes several high-risk AI systems.  Among them, systems to assess the reliability of individuals or establish their credit score (“credit score”) in cases of access to and use of essential public and private services,

– Finally, remote biometric identification systems are prohibited only if they aim at “real-time” identification, in public spaces and in criminal proceedings.

11. These limitations leave the field open to a posteriori identification, by private entities or by public authorities not acting in a repressive framework. It should also be noted that despite its regulatory form, the proposal leaves considerable room for manoeuvre for Member States to decide whether or not to use remote biometric identification systems in real time.

IV- Uses in criminal matters

12. In addition to the exceptions to the aforementioned prohibitions on real-time remote biometric identification, the proposal allows the possible use of AI systems in criminal matters[6].

Annex III, which lists the high-risk systems referred to in Article 6(2), provides for the following systems:

– systems intended to be used for the risk assessments for the commission of an offence or for recidivism by a person, or risk assessments for potential victims of an offence,

– systems intended to be used as polygraphs and similar tools or to detect the emotional state of a natural person,

– systems intended to be used to detect “deepfake” referred to in Article 52 (3),

– systems intended for use in assessing the reliability of evidence during an investigation or criminal prosecution,

– systems intended to be used to predict the occurrence or repetition of an actual or potential criminal offence, on the basis of the profiling of natural persons referred to in Article 3 para.4 of Directive 2016/680 or the assessment of personality traits and characteristics or past criminal behaviour of persons or groups,

– systems intended to be used for profiling persons referred to in Article 3 par.4 of Directive 2016/680 in the course of the detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences,

– AI systems for use in the analysis of crime involving natural persons, enabling law enforcement authorities to search for large datasets available in different data sources or data formats, to identify unknown patterns or to discover hidden relationships in the data.

13. Furthermore, a certain number of guarantees are limited or even excluded in the context of the use of AI systems in criminal matters:

– prior authorisation by a judicial or independent administrative authority for the use of real-time remote biometric identification may be postponed in urgent cases,

– Article 52, which seeks to impose an obligation to inform persons subject to certain systems, whether they are high-risk or not, excludes this obligation in criminal matters. This applies in particular to systems of emotional recognition or biometric categorisation, as well as those generating or manipulating audio, video or image content, which then appear to be falsely authentic,

– finally, Article 43, on conformity assessment of systems, provides for an assessment limited to internal control for all systems considered to be high-risk, with the exception of those relating to biometric identification and the categorization of persons.

14. The framework proposed by the Commission paves the way for highly controversial practices, particularly in predictive policing. The doctrine is very divided on the added value of AI systems in the assessment of future behavior of offenders, highlighting the risks of discrimination inherent in the functioning of algorithms [7].

It is worth recalling that this practice has already been unfortunately authorized by the EU with the anti-Money Laundering legislation [8]and notably by the infamous EU Directive on the use of Passenger Name Record data [9]. On the latter practice the CJEU has already adopted a very interesting Opinion (1/15) [10] dealing with a draft EU-Canada PNR Agreement  but is now again seized of this subject because of several Preliminary Ruling requests challenging the EU Directive compliance with the art. 7 and 8 of the EU Charter as well as the with the principles of necessity and proportionality [11].

15. The possible use of lie detectors (“polygraphs”) also generates debate and there is no consensus on its use in criminal matters. It should also be pointed out that the Commission allows the use of polygraphs in the field of migration, asylum and the management of external borders, thus reinforcing the experience currently carried out under the “iBorderCtrl” project.

Similarly, the possibilities for the use of a posterior biometric recognition systems are also the subject of criticism within doctrine and civil society. Thus, on May 27, 2021, the NGO Privacy International announced the filing of several claims in Europe against the American company Clearview AI [12], specialized in facial recognition and the commercialization of data collected to law enforcement.

Conclusion

The European Commission may have missed the opportunity here to ensure full respect for European values in the context of the ‘collective digital transformation dimension of our society’. Beyond the question of whether the AI proposal is fully compatible with European data protection legislation and the requirements of the European Charter, it is clear that when decisions are taken on the basis of AI applications individuals should have the right to specific explanations, and collective rights should also be strengthened as it is already the case in other domains of wider impact (as it happens with the Aarhus legal framework in the environment related legislation).

Negotiations on the European Commission proposal are currently underway inside the European Parliament [13]  and the Council of the EU [14]. Once established their respective positions the interinstitutional dialogue will start. In the meantime it is worth noting that the EP has already voted on October a non-legislative resolution curtailing  the use of AI techniques for such activities as facial surveillance and predictive policing [15].

It remains to be seen if this “non-legislative” resolution will be mirrored in the coming months also in the legislative trialogue between the EP, the Commission and the Council where the pressure of the interior Ministers in favor of surveillance measures risks to remain rather strong.

NOTES


[1] I hereby thanks Mrs Michelle DUBROCARD working at the European Data Protection Supervisor Office for her unvaluable contribution and comments when drafting the present article.

[2] EDPS and EDPB joint Opinion 5/2021 recalling also that “…in line with the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), Article 16 TFEU provides an appropriate legal basis in cases where the protection of personal data is one of the essential aims or components of the rules adopted by the EU legislature. The application of Article 16 TFEU also entails the need to ensure independent oversight for compliance with the requirements regarding the processing of personal data, as is also required Article 8 of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU.”

[3] It is also likely that all these new obligations, which will have to be placed on the shoulders of companies, will not fail to revive the debate on the cumbersome nature of European legislation.

[4] Consistently with this approach the EDPS and the EDPB in their Joint Opinion 5/2021 “…call for a general ban on any use of AI for an automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces – such as of faces but also of gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric or behavioural signals – in any context. A ban is equally recommended on AI systems categorizing individuals from biometrics into clusters according to ethnicity, gender, as well as political or sexual orientation, or other grounds for discrimination under Article 21 of the Charter. Furthermore, the EDPB and the EDPS consider that the use of AI to infer emotions of a natural person is highly undesirable and should be prohibited.”

[5] To avoid these risks, the future AI Regulation should clearly establish the independency of the supervisory authorities in the performance of their supervision and enforcement tasks. According to the EDPB/EDPS Joint Opinion cited above “..The designation of data protection authorities (DPAs) as the national supervisory authorities would ensure a more harmonized regulatory approach, and contribute to the consistent interpretation of data processing provisions and avoid contradictions in its enforcement among Member States.”

[6] Furthermore, according to the EDPS/EDPB Joint Opinion 5/2021, “..the exclusion of international law enforcement cooperation from the scope set of the Proposal raises serious concerns for the EDPB and EDPS, as such exclusion creates a significant risk of circumvention (e.g., third countries or international organisations operating high-risk applications relied on by public authorities in the EU)”.

[7] Literature on the risks of “Predictive Criminal Policy” is growing day by day.  As rightly stated by A.Rolland in “Ethics, Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Policing” First, the data can be subject to error: law enforcers may incorrectly enter it into the system or overlook it, especially as criminal data is known to be partial and unreliable by nature, distorting the analysis. The data may be incomplete and biased, with certain areas and criminal populations being over-represented. It may also come from periods when the police engaged in discriminatory practices against certain communities, thereby unnecessarily or incorrectly classifying certain areas as ‘high risk’. These implicit biases in historical data sets have enormous consequences for targeted communities today. As a result, the use of AI in predictive policing can exacerbate biased analyses and has been associated with racial profiling”.

[8] Fight against money laundering and terrorist financing (AML/CFT) at EU level is governed by a number of instruments which have to provide for rules affecting both public authorities and private actors who constitute the obliged entities: supervision, exchange of information and intelligence, investigation and cross-border cooperation on the one side, and obligations such as reporting or customer due diligence on the other. For this reason, the relevant instruments are based on a number of different legal bases spanning from economic policy and internal market to police and judicial cooperation. On 20 July 2021, the Commission proposed a legislative package that should enhance many of the above rules. The package consists of 1)A Regulation establishing a new EU AML/CFT Authority; 2)A Regulation on AML/CFT, containing directly-applicable rules; 3-A sixth Directive on AML/CFT (“AMLD6”), replacing the existing Directive 2015/849/EU (the fourth AML directive as amended by the fifth AML directive); 4) A revision of the 2015 Regulation on Transfers of Funds to trace transfers of crypto-assets (Regulation 2015/847/EU); 5)A revision of the Directive on the use of financial information (2019/1153/EU), which is not presented as part of the package, but is closely related to it.

[9] Directive (EU) 2016/681 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime.

[10] Opinion 1/15 pursuant to Article 218(11) TFEU — Draft agreement between Canada and the European Union — Transfer of Passenger Name Record data from the European Union to

[11] The leading Case 817/19 has been raised by the Belgian Constitutional Court and it will give the opportunity to the CJEU to decide if the indiscriminate collection of passengers data and their scoring for security purposes through secret algorithms (as currently done also in some Third Countries) is compatible with the EU Charter and with the ECHR and does not amount to a kind of general surveillance incompatible with a democratic society.

[12] In June 2020, the European Data Protection Board expressed its doubts about the existence of a European legal basis for the use of a service such as that proposed by Clearview AI  .

[13] See the current state of legislative preparatory works here : https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-europe-fit-for-the-digital-age/file-regulation-on-artificial-intelligence

[14] See the State of the play diffused by the Council Presidency here: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-9674-2021-INIT/en/pdf

[15] See the report Artificial intelligence in criminal law and its use by the police and judicial authorities in criminal matters,

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