Shaping Europe’s Digital Future: Raise Your Voice

The EU will soon begin compiling regulations for AI and a new data strategy. Add your feedback to the public consultation by 31 May 2020.

Logo for "Shaping Europe's Digital Future," the visual for the new EU AI data regulations campaign
intriguing discussion, interesting balance

Two weeks ago, DSP Valley Programme Manager for Health Johan Lecocq sent an email round to all his colleagues. He’d just read an intriguing opinion piece in Flemish the newspaper De Standaard. The author, Patrick Van Eecke, Professor of European Information- and Communications law at University Antwerp, called into question the European Commission’s approach to regulation. In particular, he was wary of the announcement that the EU will soon implement new five-year rules and regulations surrounding AI and data.

Van Eecke’s article caused quite a bit of discussion among the DSP Valley team. After all, our core business is digital technologies. The lively debate and the fact that our members are directly involved in the sectors involved made us think this would be a great topic to bring to our wider community. On the one hand, we want you to know about the goings-on; on the other, we’d love to hear what our members and the broader community think.

It is not our intention to judge the EU policies here. We recognize that the Commission has to perform a balancing act between individual rights and encouraging business innovation. In order to walk this tightrope, the Parliament has decided to take public feedback on the newly proposed plans until 31 May 2020. Last time such a survey was conducted – about whether AI ought to be regulated in the first place – only 300 citizens and companies from the entire EU took part. Van Eecke urged his readers, “Let us do better this time and provide useful feedback to the European regulators en masse.” We certainly agree.

Below we’ve highlighted the major points of the coming regulations and the motivations behind them. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find all the links you need to dive deeper, as well as space to leave your own thoughts and comments. Please join the discussion!

A new EU strategy for AI & data regulations

On 19 Feb 2020, the European Commission released several documents related to the coming AI regulations and a new data strategy. These included a press release about the new initiative, dubbed “Shaping Europe’s digital future,” a Q&A brief addressing frequent questions; a full White Paper on possible Artifical Intelligence regulation; and a 34-page communication from the Commission to the Parliament and Council detailing the motivations and main points of the new strategy. (Links to all these documents can be found at the very bottom of this post.)

The two shorter documents announce the Commission’s plans and answer basic anticipated questions and concerns. The White Paper and Communication dive much deeper, explaining in detail what the Commission has in mind and its motives.

The Commission’s press release’s first paragraph sums things up nicely:

[Here] the Commission unveils its ideas and actions for a digital transformation that works for all, reflecting the best of Europe: open, fair, diverse, democratic and confident. It presents a European society powered by digital solutions that put people first, opens up new opportunities for businesses, and boosts the development of trustworthy technology to foster an open and democratic society and a vibrant and sustainable economy. Digital is a key enabler to fighting climate change and achieving the green transition. The European data strategy and the policy options to ensure the human-centric development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) presented […] are the first steps towards achieving these goals.

one major goal – THREE KEY OBJECTIVES – a balancing act

In its press releases, the Commission explains that its overarching goal is to create a single market for data. This would be what they call a “true European data space,” in which “unused data [flows] freely within the European Union and across sectors for the benefit of businesses, researchers, and public administrations.” There’s a clear emphasis on the individual and on business, as evidenced by the references to public and private, start-up and established companies. Of course, there is a natural tension between individual interests like privacy and the needs/wants of business for unfettered innovation.

Citizens, businesses and organizations should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights gleaned from non-personal data. That data should be available to all, whether public or private, start-up or giant.

-EU Commission press release

To achieve the overarching goal of a singular space for data within the EU, the Commission proposes to focus on three key objectives over the coming five years, namely: technology that works for people; a fair and competitive economy; and an open, democratic and sustainable society.

These stem from the strong belief in maintaining trust as the basis for regulation; maintaining government that is working for individual freedom rather than its own ends. That said, the Commission itself also admits that there are thin lines to be tread here: regulation can easily overburden business and create back-ups or discourage innovation with needless red tape; a complete lack of regulation leaves open the risk of abusing individual rights.

Citizens should have the opportunity to flourish, choose freely, engage in society and at the same time feel safe online. Businesses should benefit from a framework that allows them to start up, scale up, pool data, innovate and compete with large companies on fair terms. Society should benefit from social and environmental sustainability, and a secure digital environment that respects privacy, dignity, integrity and other rights in full transparency.

Climate Change

Alongside the major goal and three key objectives, the Commission also identifies climate change as a key factor in the new strategy and associated regulations. The documents recognize that digital technologies hold plenty of potential to help combat climate change and help EU members reach climate-neutrality objectives.

The Green Deal, the “EU’s new growth strategy to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050,” critically needs new digital technologies. At the same time, the Commission asserts, digital technologies also need to become greener: more energy efficient and based more on renewable resources. Thus, climate change is one of the goals digital technologies should help reach and a motivator for the digital sector itself.

Facial recognition

Another of the main facets of AI technology that the Commission wants to address is facial recognition software. In the Q&A brief sent out to accompany the White Paper and strategy communication, the Commission acknowledges that there are varying forms of facial recognition. These are classified into two major categories: one-to-one matching (ex. using facial recognition to confirm an identity to a matching travel document) and one-to-many matching (ex. remote biometric identification against a database).

It is the latter that the Commission sees as most risky. Moreover, the uses of facial recognition for remote identification remain unclear, or as yet unknown in their breadth and depth. As such, as the Commission’s release says, “the Commission wants to launch a broad debate on which circumstances might justify exceptions in the future, if any,” for facial recognition technology.

So, what are you waiting for?

This is a great opportunity to harness the power of public feedback, certainly from the point of view of the business world and key players in digital technologies. What kinds of regulations would become over burdensome to business? What are the less risky systems and applications that need to be taken into account when writing the rules for the higher-risk ones? Where can the exceptions be made? No doubt DSP Valley members have insights and opinions here that would be extremely valuable to the discussion.

We’d love to hear what you think! Use the area at the bottom of the page to leave a comment or question. It would be great if, within our community, we can get a conversation going. We have no doubt that we can learn from you and you can learn from each other.

Submit your feedback to Europe

Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020, wasn’t just the day the European Commission published its plans about AI and data regulations. It was also the day they opened the call for public feedback. The Parliament wants to hear from European citizens and companies with regard to the proposals. There are currently two surveys open, both set to close on 31 May 2020. That means we have about a month and a half left to let our voices be heard. Don’t miss the opportunity!

Click here to submit your feedback on the proposed European Strategy for Data.

Click here to submit your feedback on the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence – A European Approach.

You’ll need an EU login. No worries, though, getting one is easy – just follow the prompts. You’ll be letting Europe hear you in no time.

Further Reading

Below you can find further reading, direct from the European Commission. Please note, you will need an EU login in order to access these documents.

Check out the European Commission’s Press Release on its strategies for data and AI, sent out on 19 Feb 2020

Click here to see the European Commission’s brief Questions and Answers on “Shaping Europe’s digital future,” released on 19 Feb 2020

Read the European Commissions White Paper “On Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and trust”

Consult the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, and the Committee of the Regions, “A European strategy for data” here

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