Mass surveillance in Europe? Leaked EU document raises serious privacy concerns

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Several MEPs are warning against the European Commission’s draft regulation on the approach to artificial intelligence, with the politicians citing fears of broad monitoring of users on social networks, facial recognition technology, and pinpoint geographical data for individuals.

The European Commission stated that it wanted to present the final version of the document next week, but the draft has leaked and started to raise concerns among representatives of the European Parliament.

For several months, the European Commission has been preparing a proposal to regulate the use of artificial intelligence (AI). This should apply in particular to computer algorithms, where artificial intelligence should be more secure and transparent. However, the document leaked prematurely and news outlets such as the BBC are reporting on its contents.

The proposal has over 80 pages and there are a number of passages raising grave concern from politicians across Europe. MEPs are warning that although facial recognition for tracking would be disabled by design, there are exceptions for this technology for the military and ensuring public safety. This is the case, for example, when a planned terrorist attack or similar threats are suspected.

However, there are legitimate concerns that this exception could be misused for widespread surveillance of European citizens and, in addition, would be a harsh invasion of privacy.

The proposal would also give powers to public authorities to monitor location data, private communications, and social networks. According to MEPs, these systems are very easy to abuse.

MEP Alexandr Vondra from the Civic Democratic Party also warns that the document is not yet official. Nevertheless, he said, artificial intelligence should be developing in the European Union.

“However, it is premature to give a blank check to public authorities now that we do not even know exactly how we will define AI. Moreover, this is a potentially large-scale encroachment on citizens’ freedoms, and it should be dealt with primarily by individual national parliaments and not by EU institutions,” Vondra told Echo24.

The document was also strongly condemned by the Pirates, according to which the European Commission itself admits that if conditions are met, authorities could snoop on citizens on a mass scale. According to Marcel Kolaja, Vice-President of the European Parliament, this would mostly affect the states which he said are threatened by the lack of an independent judiciary.

“Even the Chinese monitoring system is set up for the alleged purpose of ensuring security,” added Kolaja.

He also recalled that more than 100 MEPs had sent an open letter to the European Commission against the proposal.

“It is necessary to set clear rules for the use of artificial intelligence, which will not be easy to circumvent,” he stressed.

In addition to this exception, the European Commission’s proposal also mentions the regulation of artificial intelligence that influences human behavior, decisions, or opinions. This is an example of social credit that is developing in China. It is these systems that are used for random tracking that should be limited.

A new element of the proposal also stipulates that companies would also face a fine of up to 4 percent of the total annual turnover if they use prohibited AI services. The fine imposed for violations of the GDPR is set similarly.

Title image: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a statement after a meeting of the college of commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced plans Wednesday for a major contract extension for COVID-19 vaccines with Pfizer stretching to 2023. (John Thys, Pool via AP)

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