Image: AI's human rights impact

The EU AI Act: a failure for human rights, a victory for industry and law enforcement

The EU’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act was voted through and adopted today, 13 March, in a plenary session of the European Parliament. Despite its intention to protect people’s rights, the final text of the AI Act is an unambitious piece of product safety legislation. Following outrageous lobbying by industry and law enforcement agencies, the final text is full of loopholes, carve-outs, and exceptions, which mean that it will not protect people, nor their human rights, from some of the most dangerous uses of AI. 

First proposed in 2021, the EU’s co-legislative bodies finally announced a deal on the EU AI Act in December 2023. The European Parliament entered the last trilogue negotiations with a very strong text, but it fell at the final hurdle; protections for people’s rights have either been watered down or fully removed in the text voted through today.

EU officials boast about being global trendsetters when it comes to regulating AI, but with this law they’ve set the lowest bar possible. The new AI Act is littered with concessions to industry lobbying, exemptions for the most dangerous uses of AI by law enforcement and migration authorities, and prohibitions so full of loopholes that they don’t actually ban some of the most dangerous uses of AI. Daniel Leufer, Senior Policy Analyst at Access Now

Access Now notes in particular that the final version of the AI Act:

  • Fails to properly ban some of the most dangerous uses of AI, including systems that enable biometric mass surveillance and predictive policing systems;
  • Creates a glaring loophole via Article 6(3) for developers to exempt themselves from obligations for high-risk AI systems,;
  • Exempts law enforcement and migration authorities from important public transparency requirements when they use high-risk AI, meaning they can continue deploying dangerous systems in secret;
  • Further broadens the national security exemption beyond what is allowed for in the EU treaties, allowing governments to exempt themselves from obligations under the AI Act in order to pursue cases deemed relevant to national security;
  • Creates a separate regime for people migrating, seeking refuge, and/or living undocumented, leaving with them far fewer rights than EU citizens and almost no access to remedy when these rights are violated.

The #ProtectNotSurveil coalition, which Access Now co-leads, has detailed how the final AI Act presents heightened risks in a migration context, setting dangerous precedents for the use of surveillance technologies against people on the move and racialised communities. 

The EU AI Act will only entrench police and migration authorities’ existing culture of impunity – encouraging them to keep deploying harmful AI systems against the most marginalised communities. Once again, the EU’s digital policies are being used as a testbed for oppressive surveillance representing a blatant attack on everyone’s fundamental rights. Caterina Rodelli, EU Policy Analyst at Access Now

Despite the AI Act’s profound shortcomings, Access Now will work with civil society partners to push for the strongest possible implementation of the AI Act and the few rights-protecting tools it includes, while continuing to monitor and call out AI-facilitated abuses.