Bahrain Pioneers AI Regulation with New Standalone Law

Unveiling the AI Regulation Law

In a unanimous decision, the Shura Council of Bahrain has approved a groundbreaking standalone law for Artificial Intelligence (AI). This law, which includes penalties of up to three years in prison or fines reaching BD2,000 for violations, marks a significant step forward in the regulation of AI. The AI Regulation law, consisting of 38 articles, was proposed by a group of five members led by the vice-chairman of the human rights committee, Ali Al Shehabi. The government will now draft this proposal into formal legislation and refer it to Parliament within the next six months.

Collaborative Effort for Comprehensive Legislation

The AI Regulation law’s approval came after extensive consultations with officials from various ministries including Interior, Health, Education, Cabinet Affairs, Information, Transportation and Telecommunications, Industry and Commerce, Parliament and Shura Affairs, and Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments. Feedback was also gathered from the National Space Science Agency, Bahrain Polytechnic, Information and eGovernment Authority, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and Tamkeen. Dallal Al Zayed, the chairwoman of Shura’s legislative and legal affairs committee, acknowledged the complexity of reviewing the law but emphasized its pioneering nature in the region.

Anticipating the Future of AI

AI Regulation

Ali Al Shehabi highlighted the integral role AI will play in the future, making it crucial to regulate it now to prevent potential dangers and misuse. He noted that while Bahrain is eager to introduce AI-aided services across various sectors, the advancements could also lead to criminal activities. The AI Regulation law aims to tackle illegal acts such as tampering with voice features, biometrics, fingerprints, official documents, audio, and video.

Penalties and Provisions

The law stipulates a fine of up to BD1,000 for anyone exploiting AI technologies to make decisions that require human intervention or assessment. It also proposes a fine of up to BD2,000 for anyone processing or programming AI systems to invade privacy, affect personal freedoms, or violate social values and traditions. The same fine applies to anyone misusing AI for discrimination or in violation of its intended purposes. The AI Regulation law also addresses the use of unregulated Autobots or robots, programming, processing, inserting, or developing artificial intelligence systems without a license, and tampering with official speeches, comments, or addresses.

Ensuring Ethical Use of AI

The law considers the use of AI technologies for deception, manipulation, or malice as a grave crime that warrants severe action. Violators could face up to three years in jail, or fines between BD5,000 and BD20,000, or both. The law also addresses the deliberate use of AI to cause unrest, political disturbances, sabotage, incitement, or calls for terrorist acts. Those found guilty of such acts could face a minimum of three years in jail.

Implementing the Law

The AI Regulation law gives the responsible minister six months to issue governing executive by-laws from the date of its issuance. These by-laws will include classifications for all programs, processors, and high-risk systems. A new special unit for AI will be formed with judicially authorized inspectors under the ministry concerned to be named later. The unit will have the power to warn offenders to remove all damage, withdraw their license or authorization, and issue daily fines of BD100 until violations are cleared.

Dr. Fatima Al Kooheji, chairwoman of Shura’s woman and child committee, raised concerns about the implementation of punishments, particularly for children. She emphasized the need for clear communication about the consequences and punishments to everyone, especially children, to avoid sentencing a large segment of society with fines and jail time. She advocated for awareness before the law came into effect.