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Social Discrimination Caused By Artificial Intelligence Needs To Be Stopped, MEPs Urge

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Artificial Intelligence has become a crucial part of everyday life. From traffic regulation, to environment data collection, to law enforcement; algorithms have dominated the acquisition of information, even in Malta.

However, some MEPs have started to worry about the social bias behind law enforcement algorithms that have enhanced undemocratic, unfounded and discriminatory arrests of marginalised communities.

“AI is a great potential ally, but it is being spoiled by the EU. Instead of securing and fighting delinquency, it is increasing discrimination,” said a member of the Identity and Democracy Group.

According to a text brought forward in the European Parliament, AI-based identification systems already misidentify minority ethnic groups, LGBTIQA+ people, seniors and women at disproportionately higher rates, which is especially concerning in the context of law enforcement.

This is why MEPs asked for a permanent ban on the automated recognition of individuals in public spaces, arguing that citizens should only be monitored when suspected of a crime.

In short, Parliament urged for the prohibition of private facial recognition databases,  predictive policing based on behavioural data and social scoring systems which try to rate the trustworthiness of citizens based on their behaviour or personality.

MEPs were overall concerned by the use of biometric data to remotely identify people through the use of security like facial recognition. Border control gates tend to use such automated recognition.

However, not all members of parliament agreed that such software “undermines the basis to our democratic principles”.

Many considered digitisation to be inevitable, arguing that police must be equipped with modern tools to fight modern crimes.

Nonetheless, the majority agreed that there must be a balance. Human intervention and revision is necessary to avoid the intrinsic bias of artificial intelligence with the main demand being to ban mass surveillance.

Malta’s Safe City is an example of such mass surveillance technology, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat even referred to the potential network as “eyes in the sky”.

According to this scheme, cameras backed by AI-driven facial recognition technology should be set up in crime hot spots like Paceville and other key areas, if successful.

This project was proposed by Muscat back in 2016 and received similar mixed reviews. Some applauding the attempt to control crime, others condemning the breach of privacy and likelihood for increased social profiling.

However, the project has never really gotten off the ground.

The EU resolution received 377 in favour, 248 against and 62 abstentions – a close and controversial call.

Their ultimate proposals called for human supervision and strong legal powers to prevent discrimination by AI.

“Human operators must always make the final decisions,” MEPs concluded.

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Do you think that mass surveillance protects or endangers people?

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Ana’s a university student who loves a heated debate, she’s very passionate about humanitarian issues and justice. In her free time you’ll probably catch her binge watching way too many TV shows or thinking about her next meal.

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