EU lawmaker Benifei urges the bloc's countries to compromise on AI rules

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows OpenAI logo

By Foo Yun Chee and Supantha Mukherjee

BRUSSELS/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - European Union lawmaker Brando Benifei, who is leading negotiations on artificial intelligence rules, on Thursday urged EU countries to compromise in key areas in order to reach agreement with the bloc's executive by the end of the year.

Benifei's call comes ahead of two more rounds of talks next month to thrash out draft rules proposed by the European Commission two years ago, which aim to set a global standard for a technology with a role in almost every industry and business.

The thorniest issues are biometric surveillance and copyrighted material used by ChatGPT and other generative AI.

Lawmakers want a ban on AI use in biometric surveillance but EU countries led by France want exceptions for national security, defence and military purposes.

Lawmakers also want AI legislation to cover copyrighted material used by companies like OpenAI, backed by Microsoft Corp, while EU countries say the bloc's current copyright rules offer sufficient protection.

Benifei told Reuters in an interview that EU countries needed to be more flexible to enable a deal with lawmakers by the end of year, although he was optimistic an agreement could be found on a final text.

"We need a more united Europe also on technology if we want to be competitive, this regulation is a 'stress test' to some extent," he said.

Dutch Minister for Digitalisation Alexandra van Huffelen declined to comment on the talks with EU lawmakers but said she was hopeful.

"What we're seeing and getting more and more aware of, is having good and workable and transparent regulation on AI in Europe," she told Reuters from the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

A policy advisor to the Commission, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the biometric surveillance issue could go "down to the wire".

He added that there were still a lot of different ideas around copyright fees although Spain, which holds the current EU presidency, was keen for an agreement before its mandate ends on Dec. 31 and was "trying to figure out its room for manoeuvre".

Svenja Hahn, a lawmaker who is also part of the negotiating team, also declined to comment on the talks but reiterated her own position, underscoring the hurdles ahead.

"I believe biometric facial surveillance should not be in the AI Act. It should be banned. Copyright should be dealt with in the copyright law," she told Reuters, chiming with EU countries on the second matter.

Some parliamentarians had pushed to prohibit even biometrics on devices which would have prevented a mobile phone from unlocking with fingerprint or face recognition, said Guillaume Couneson, partner at law firm Linklaters' Global Tech Sector.

"That didn't end up in the final version of the Parliament's position, but it's clearly something that is quite sensitive," he said.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; additional reporting by Martin Coulter in London; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)