drone flying

EU to facilitate suing AI and drone companies in new draft rules

The AI Liability Directive proposed by the European Commission would help people harmed by artificial intelligence (AI) and digital devices such as drones, robots and smart-home systems.

The AI Liability Directive would reduce the burden of proof on people suing over incidents involving AI and digital devices, with the goal of providing more legal clarity for manufacturers and consumers, the Commission said. 

In addition to drones and AI systems, other devices such as self-driving cars, voice assistants and search engines could also fall under the directive's scope, which could run alongside the EU's proposed Artificial Intelligence Act, the first law regulating the use of AI systems.  

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders described it as a legal framework fit for the digital age.

"While considering the huge potential of new technologies, we must always ensure the safety of consumers," he said in a statement. "Proper standards of protection for EU citizens are the basis for consumer trust and therefore successful innovation. New technologies like drones or delivery services operated by AI can only work when consumers feel safe and protected."

Under the proposed draft, victims would be able to sue for compensation for harm to their life, property, health and privacy due to the fault or omission of a provider, developer or user of AI technology or discrimination in recruitment processes using AI. 

The rules would introduce a "presumption of causality", by which victims would only need to show that a manufacturer or user's failure to comply with certain requirements caused the harm and then link this to the AI technology in their lawsuit. They would also recognise the "right of access to evidence", under which victims can ask a court to order companies and suppliers to provide information about high-risk AI systems. 

The Commission also unveiled an update to its Product Liability Directive that would make manufacturers of tangible or intangible products liable if the products they sell are unsafe. This will apply to software updates if they make the product unsafe during its lifetime.

"The Product Liability Directive has been a cornerstone of the internal market for four decades. Today's proposal will make it fit to respond to the challenges of the decades to come," internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said in a statement.

"The new rules will reflect global value chains, foster innovation and consumer trust, and provide stronger legal certainty for businesses involved in the green and digital transition," he added.

Meanwhile, "appropriate safeguards" will be put in place to ensure that the companies' sensitive information and trade secrets are protected, according to the Commission. 

In July 2022, the European Parliament passed two landmark rules – the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act – that aim to rein in the power of tech giants such as Alphabet unit Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. The bills are part of the Commission's journey towards developing what it describes as a “rulebook” for online platforms, with the goal of creating “a safer and more open digital space, grounded in respect for fundamental rights”.

In 2021, it was revealed that 612 companies, groups and associations spend more than €97m (£83m) annually lobbying against EU digital economy policies, specifically the DMA and the DSA, with lobbyists involved in three-quarters of the 270 meetings Commission officials had on the two draft laws. Despite this, both acts are expected to come into force this autumn. 

In August, the European Court of Justice further protected consumers' digital rights after ruling that data retention in Germany is not compatible with EU law, stating that internet and phone service providers should not store citizens’ communications data without cause.

The AI Liability Directive would still need to be approved by all member states before becoming law, but it might face similar opposition from industry. 

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