Government faces AI facial recognition and copyright pressure

Government AI Image credit: Number 10 / Flickr

The government is facing pressure to provide clarity on the regulation and legality of different uses of AI as the global Safety Summit approaches.

The Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Committee today warned that international competition, including from the European Union, would overtake the UK’s position as a leader in AI regulation if the government did not pass legislation by the King’s Speech in November.

The report stated the UK risks “being left behind by other legislation — like the EU AI Act — that could become the de facto standard and be hard to displace” without swift action.

The government has not yet said whether it intended to introduce legislation within the report’s suggested time frame, however, it said it was willing to consider further steps.

While the government is under pressure to quickly pass laws governing the use of AI, there remain many unknowns regarding its position on key debates.

Facial recognition

The Home Office and the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) released a document on Wednesday revealing ambitions to ramp up the use of controversial AI-powered facial recognition capabilities, with the hope of deploying new biometric detection systems over the next 18 months.

National policing chief scientific advisor Professor Paul Taylor said that he and the minister of state crime, policing and fire “firmly believe that embracing this advanced technology can significantly enhance public safety while respecting individual rights and privacy”. He added that “industry is pivotal to [the] realisation of that mission”.

The call for expanded use of AI facial recognition in law enforcement drew heavy criticism from the campaigning organisation Big Brother Watch, the director of which described the proposal as “disturbing”, “deeply undemocratic” and “Orwellian”.

Facial recognition technology has already been deployed to some extent by UK law enforcement, though not without drawing extensive criticism for invasions of personal privacy, data protection and equality legislation.

In 2020, a UK court ruled that the use of facial recognition by South Wales Police was unlawful, highlighting what the court described as “fundamental deficiencies” in the legal framework governing its use.

Copyright protection

The Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee yesterday published a report demanding the government abandon previously proposed plans to grant copyright exemption to AI-generated content.

Earlier this year, parliament debated removing the legal protection of copyrighted work, notably music and art, in cases of it being used by generative AI to create new works.

At the time of the debate, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney told UKTN: “This ‘no exception for copyright on creative work’ is already an example of AI only thinking about the interests of AI and we haven’t thought about how we actually integrate it yet.”

The flames were further fanned in June when the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) published a review on pro-innovation regulation for digital technology that included a proposal to give AI unrestricted access to music, art and literature.

The CMS Committee yesterday argued that the plan risks “reducing arts and cultural productions to mere inputs in AI development” and showed a “clear lack of understanding of the needs of the UK’s creative industries”.

Under the current framework, copyright exemption is provided for text and data mining for non-commercial research purposes. The CMS Committee discouraged considerations to expand those exemptions to creative works.

“The government must now start to rebuild trust by showing it really understands where the creative industries are coming from and develop a copyright and regulatory regime that properly protects them as AI continues to disrupt traditional cultural production,” said committee chair Dame Caroline Dineage.