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EU Lawmakers Vote to Completely Ban Remote Facial-Recognition Surveillance

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Real-time, remote biometric monitoring has been outlawed by the European Parliament, making it impossible for police departments around the EU to employ live facial recognition technology. Legislators had earlier approved the restriction after confronting early resistance over worries that it would be overly broad.

The restriction might put the parliamentarians in conflict with EU countries which would rather heavily implement the technology for policing.

The decision also includes further restrictions on general-purpose artificial intelligence (AI) and so-called fundamental models, such OpenAI’s GPT-4. Regardless of their intended use, the law mandates that businesses like OpenAI Inc. and Google do risk assessments and give descriptions of the copyrighted content used to train their models.

Roberta Metsola, the president of the parliament, stated during a news conference that any upcoming advancements in artificial intelligence would need to be subject to consistent, clearly stated rules and constraints.

“There is one thing that we will not compromise on: Anytime technology advances, it must go hand in hand with our fundamental rights and democratic values,” he added.

On June 14, the AI Act’s whole draft was approved by a resounding majority. 499 delegates voted in favor, 28 voted against, and 93 did not participate in the voting. The vote kicks off what is known as the “trilogue” round of discussions amongst the parliament members, where the finer points of the measure will be finalized.

According to Bloomberg, the EU Commission is aiming for a deal by the end of the year, meaning the new AI Act regulations could affect businesses as soon as 2026.

However, according to Brando Benifei, one of the primary writers of the measure, some regulations may be put in to place much earlier.

In the meanwhile, representatives from the EU, notably Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, are working to develop a voluntary code of conduct with G7 digital corporations that also includes countries like India and Indonesia.

Facial scanning in public places would be authorized for specific law-enforcement scenarios under an earlier agreement reached by EU member states at the end of last year. This issue will continue to be a sticking point for a number of EU member states in the next discussions.

People’s Party members who lean farther to the right petitioned to add exceptions to the rule, such as in cases of looking for missing children and stopping terrorist acts. But in the resounding vote earlier this month, legislators mostly ignored these arguments.

“The result of today gives us even a stronger position. It’s clear that the parliament doesn’t want us to recede on such important topics, on avoiding mass surveillance,” said Benifei.

Concerns

In its report (pdf), the European Parliamentary Research Service describes how AI technology such as facial recognition could be problematic in terms of personal freedom.

“While there are real benefits to using facial recognition systems for public safety and security, their pervasiveness and intrusiveness, as well as their susceptibility to error, give rise to a number of fundamental rights concerns with regard, for instance, to discrimination against certain segments of the population and violations of the right to data protection and privacy,” the report states.

The AI Act was first proposed in 2021 (pdf), and was initially touted as a risk-based approach that would effectively regulate the application of AI rather than the actual technology itself. The proposal would have banned practices like social credit scoring and the implementation of technologies that would likely have negative impacts in terms of bias, discrimination, and citizens’ fundamental rights.

The drive to include general-purpose AI in the act, which would apply to a considerably larger range of circumstances, was instead led by EU member states.

According to reports, members of the European Parliament went a step further by putting restrictions to “foundational models.” This refers to the substantial language models that underlie chatbots like ChatGPT, which have recently been under intense public and official attention.

In a statement, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said he expects clear and proportionate rules on generative AI to be focal points of the trilogue process.

“We need effective transparency requirements on AI-generated content and strict rules against ‘deep fakes,’” he said.

The scope of the new EU legislation may have significant effects on a market that is now pegged at close to $1.5 trillion in value. If they don’t comply, businesses might be subject to hefty fines of up to 6% of their annual income.

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Democrats Block SAVE Act in Senate, Allowing Potential for Illegal Immigrant Voting

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Senate Democrats have thwarted the passage of the SAVE Act, a pivotal bill aimed at bolstering the integrity of federal elections by mandating proof of citizenship for voting eligibility. This move follows the House’s approval of the bill with a narrow vote of 221-198, where almost all Democrats opposed the measure.

The SAVE Act seeks to amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to enforce stricter voter registration standards. Specifically, it proposes that voters must furnish documentary evidence of U.S. citizenship to participate in federal elections, diverging from current regulations that only require such proof for state and local elections.

Senator Mike Lee, commending Representative Chip Roy for the bill’s passage, emphasized the necessity for Senate action, asserting, “Federal elections are only for U.S. citizens.”

However, despite efforts to expedite the bill in the Senate, Democrats raised objections, preventing its immediate passage. Senator Lee expressed frustration over the blockage, highlighting the potential consequences: “It’ll stop noncitizens from voting.”

In a statement on the Senate floor, Senator Lee voiced deep concerns, citing a recent study revealing significant opportunities for illegal voting by noncitizens. The study indicated that between 10% to 27% of noncitizens are registered to vote, with 5% to 13% actually participating in presidential elections.

Instances of voter fraud, including noncitizens illegally registered to vote, have been documented across the country. Reports have surfaced of unsolicited voter registration forms sent to noncitizens and inadequate checks during driver’s license issuance, contributing to vulnerabilities in the electoral system.

A video shared by Mike Howell, Executive Director of the Heritage Oversight Project, in collaboration with Muckraker.com, further underscored concerns. The video exposed instances of illegal aliens admitting to voter registration in North Carolina, emphasizing the need to safeguard American elections from foreign influence.

The SAVE Act’s blockade in the Senate has ignited a contentious debate over electoral integrity and the role of citizenship in voting rights. As the legislative battle continues, the future of federal voting regulations remains uncertain, with implications for the upcoming 2024 elections.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Reinstates Unstaffed Drop Boxes Ahead of 2024 Election

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In a significant ruling on July 5, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided to reinstate the use of unstaffed drop boxes for absentee ballots, reversing the prohibition that had been in effect since 2022. The court’s 4–3 decision marks a pivotal change in Wisconsin’s election procedures ahead of the 2024 elections.

In 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that state law did not allow for absentee drop boxes to be placed anywhere other than in election clerk offices. This decision effectively banned the use of unmanned drop boxes, which had been widely utilized in previous elections to facilitate absentee voting.

The reversal of the 2022 ruling was influenced by a change in the court’s composition. A new justice was elected in 2023, which led to a re-evaluation of the previous decision. During the arguments in May, Justice Jill Karofsky questioned the validity of the 2022 ruling, suggesting that it may have been a mistake. “What if we just got it wrong? What if we made a mistake? Are we now supposed to just perpetuate that mistake into the future?” Karofsky asked during the proceedings.

The court heard arguments three months before the August 13 primary and six months ahead of the November presidential election. Attorneys representing Republican backers of the 2022 ruling contended that there had been no changes in the facts or the law to justify overturning a decision that was less than two years old. Misha Tseytlin, at torney for the Republican-controlled Legislature, argued that overturning the ruling could lead to future instability, as the court might have to revisit the issue whenever its composition changes.

However, Justice Karofsky countered this by pointing out the potential flaws in the 2022 decision, questioning whether the court should continue to uphold a ruling that was “egregiously wrong from the start” with “exceptionally weak” reasoning and damaging consequences.

Democrats and voting rights advocates argued that the 2022 ruling misinterpreted the law by concluding that absentee ballots could only be returned to a clerk’s office and not to a drop box controlled by the clerk. David Fox, attorney for the groups challenging the prohibition, described the current law as unworkable and unclear about where ballots can be returned.

Several justices expressed concerns about revisiting the previous ruling, with Justice Rebecca Bradley cautioning against the court acting as a “super Legislature” and giving municipal clerks excessive discretion in conducting elections.

The case was brought by voter mobilization group Priorities USA and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Voters. Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees the state’s elections, supported the use of drop boxes. Election officials from four counties, including the state’s two largest, also filed briefs in support of overturning the prohibition, arguing that drop boxes had been used securely for decades.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys highlighted the practical impact of the 2022 ruling, noting that over 1,600 absentee ballots arrived late and were not counted in the 2022 election when drop boxes were not in use. By contrast, in the 2020 election, when drop boxes were available, only 689 ballots arrived after Election Day, despite a significantly higher number of absentee voters.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate unstaffed drop boxes is a crucial development in the state’s election laws, potentially increasing accessibility and convenience for absentee voters. As the 2024 elections approach, this ruling may have significant implications for voter turnout and the administration of elections in Wisconsin.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Elon Musk Backs Voter Bill Aimed at Providing Proof of U.S. Citizenship to Vote, Labels Opponents as “Traitors”

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Elon Musk recently voiced strong support for the SAVE Act, a bill proposed by House Speaker Mike Johnson aimed at ensuring only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. The Safeguard American Voter Eligibility (SAVE) Act seeks to amend the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by mandating documentary proof of U.S. citizenship for voter registration in federal elections.

The bill outlines several key measures:

  • State election officials must verify citizenship before providing voter registration forms.
  • Individuals must provide proof of citizenship to register to vote in federal elections.
  • States can accept various documents to make it easier for citizens to register.
  • States will have access to federal agency databases to remove non-citizens from voter rolls.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is directed to determine whether to initiate removal proceedings if a non-citizen is identified as registered to vote.
  • DHS must notify state election officials when individuals are naturalized to ensure they can exercise their voting rights.

Supporters, including Musk, argue that these measures are necessary to protect the integrity of U.S. elections by preventing non-citizens from voting. Critics of the bill claim it could disenfranchise eligible voters by imposing additional hurdles to the registration process.

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