UN calls for moratorium on AI systems that pose serious risks to right to privacy and other human rights

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On 15 September 2021, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report, “The right to privacy in the digital age”, that analyses how artificial intelligence (AI), through the use of profiling, automated decision-making and machine learning technologies, affects people’s fundamental rights and freedoms such as the right to privacy, the right to health and freedom of expression.

The OHCHR urges for a moratorium on the sale and use of AI systems that pose a serious risk to human rights and remote biometric recognition systems in public spaces until adequate safeguards are put in place. It also recommends banning AI applications that cannot ensure compliance with international human rights law.

While the report recognised that AI is instrumental in developing innovative solutions, it stressed the effects of the ubiquity of AI on people’s fundamental rights. The report looks in detail at the use of AI solutions in key public and private sectors, for example, in national security, criminal justice, employment and when managing information online.

In this respect, the OHCHR highlighted a number of risks of AI that need to be addressed by states and businesses, for example:

  • the ways in which the large amounts of data fed into the AI systems are merged, collected and analysed is opaque, which has created an “immense” accountability gap;
  • the data used to inform and guide AI systems can be faulty, discriminatory and out-of-date, leading to discriminatory decisions with increased risks for marginalised groups; and
  • lack of transparency with respect to how companies are developing and using AI

The report recommends addressing these risks using a comprehensive human rights-based approach and outlines possible ways to address the fundamental problems associated with AI, including the implementation of a robust legislative and regulatory framework, which prevents and mitigates any adverse effects of AI on human rights. States should ensure that any permitted interference with the right to privacy and other human rights through the use of AI does not impair the essence of these rights and is stipulated by law, pursues a legitimate purpose, is necessary and proportionate, and requires adequate justification of AI-supported decisions. The OHCHR also recommends that public and private entities systematically conduct human rights due diligence throughout the entire life cycle of the AI systems (including a human rights impact assessment), increase transparency about the use of AI and actively combat discrimination.

The press release is available here and the report is available here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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