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    The Council of Europe Adopts New Convention on AI for Safeguarding Human Rights, Democracy

    The Council of Europe, consisting of 46 European member nations, adopted the ‘Council of Europe Framework Convention on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law’ on May 17, 2024. The Convention lays out a framework for risk management in the adoption of AI systems in order to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe, which brings together governments across Europe, sets out minimum legal standards for member countries in diverse sectors, and also works with the European Union in assisting member nations.

    The objective of the Convention, as stated by the Council, is “to ensure that activities within the lifecycle of artificial intelligence systems are fully consistent with human rights, democracy and the rule of law.” The agreement requires member nations to adopt legislative, administrative and other measures to implement the Convention provisions.

    In a detailed explanatory text, the Council clarifies that the term “within” is not used as a technical term and does not have a limiting effect on the concept of the AI lifecycle. Moreover, in applying the obligations to the entire AI lifecycle, the drafters have sought to make the Convention future proof in view of rapid and unpredictable technological advancements.

    Key Points from the Convention

    Definition of AI systems: The Convention defines an ‘artificial intelligence system’ as:

    “…a machine-based system that for explicit or implicit objectives, infers, from the input it receives, how to generate outputs such as predictions, content, recommendations or decisions that may influence physical or virtual environments. Different artificial intelligence systems vary in their levels of autonomy and adaptiveness after deployment.”

    What is the scope of the Convention?

    The Convention is applicable to the activities within the lifecycle of AI systems undertaken by public authorities, or private actors acting on their behalf. Member nations are required to address risks and impact on human rights emerging from such AI-related activities undertaken by private actors in line with the objective of the Convention. On signing the Convention, parties are also required to specify how they intend to implement the obligations set out in the agreement, especially with respect to AI activities of private actors.

    Interestingly, member nations are “not required” to apply the Convention to AI systems related to “protection of its national security interests.” Similarly, matters related to national defence are also not covered in the treaty. It will also not apply to research and development of AI systems not yet deployed for use, “unless testing or similar activities are undertaken in such a way that they have the potential to interfere with human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

    Foundational principles of the Convention

    From Article 7 to Article 13, the Convention lays out a set of common principles that signatories are required to implement for governing AI systems in a manner appropriate to their domestic legal system. Parties will have to adopt measures in order to protect the following principles in relation to lifecycle of the AI systems:

    • Respect human dignity and individual autonomy
    • Ensure adequate transparency and oversight requirements for specific risks, and identification of AI-generated content
    • Ensure accountability and responsibility for adverse impacts on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
    • Ensure equality, including gender equality, and the prohibition of discrimination in deploying AI systems.
    • Tackle inequalities to achieve fair, just, and equitable outcomes.
    • Ensure privacy rights of individuals and establish safeguards for the protection of their personal data.
    • Promote the reliability of AI systems and trust in their outputs, which could include requirements related to adequate quality and security throughout the lifecycle of AI systems.
    • Ensure safe innovation by enabling the establishment of controlled environments for developing, experimenting, and testing AI systems under the supervision of competent authorities.

    Remedies against violation of human rights

    The Convention requires parties to ensure the availability of “accessible and effective remedies” against violations of human rights caused by AI-related activities through measures consistent with domestic law, while fulfilling international obligations.

    Some of the measures outlined under Article 14 of the Convention are as follows:

    • Ensure adequate documentation of relevant information on AI systems that can potentially impact human rights, enable access to such information to authorised bodies, and communicate them to affected persons,
    • Ensure that the information provided is adequate enough for affected persons to contest the decision(s) made or substantially informed by the use of the system,
    • Establish effective mechanism for persons to lodge a complaint to competent authorities.

    Article 15 of the Convention outlines procedural safeguards which include:

    • In cases where an AI system significantly impacts human rights, parties have to establish effective procedural guarantees, safeguards and rights, in accordance with the applicable international and domestic law, to the affected persons.
    • Parties have to ensure that persons interacting with AI systems are notified that they are interacting with such systems rather than with a human.

    Assessment and mitigation of risks

    Under Article 16, the Council lays out a risk and impact management framework outlining the following measures:

    • In adherence to the fundamental principles of the Convention, parties are required to “adopt or maintain measures for the identification, assessment, prevention and mitigation of risks” posed by AI systems by evaluating actual and potential impacts on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
    • The Convention states that these measures shall be “graduated and differentiated”, as appropriate to the nations and must cover the following:

    “a. take due account of the context and intended use of artificial intelligence systems, in particular as concerns risks to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law;

    b. take due account of the severity and probability of potential impacts;

    c. consider, where appropriate, the perspectives of relevant stakeholders, in particular persons whose rights may be impacted;

    d. apply iteratively throughout the activities within the lifecycle of the artificial intelligence system;

    e. include monitoring for risks and adverse impacts to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law;

    f. include documentation of risks, actual and potential impacts, and the risk management approach; and

    g. require, where appropriate, testing of artificial intelligence systems before making them available for first use and when they are significantly modified.”

    • Parties are required to ensure that adverse impacts of AI systems on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are adequately addressed, and documented and inform the relevant risk management measures for transparency.
    • Signatories must also assess the need for a “moratorium or ban or other appropriate measures” with respect to certain use cases of AI systems if such uses are assessed to be incompatible with human rights, the functioning of democracy or the rule of law.

    The Convention stated that the implementation of the obligations must be done without discrimination, and in consideration of the rights of persons with disabilities and of children. Signatories are also required to conduct public consultation, promote digital literacy, establish safeguards for existing human rights, and ensure the capabilities to offer wider protection against risks to individuals. Additionally, the Council has also laid out a mechanism for follow-up with the parties, reporting obligations, international cooperation, and oversight mechanisms for reviewing the implementation of the Convention by member States.


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    The post The Council of Europe Adopts New Convention on AI for Safeguarding Human Rights, Democracy appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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