ENNHRI Co-Lab: AI

30 November 2023- 1 December 2023, Ljubljana, Slovenia

ENNHRI Co-Lab: AI

30 November 2023- 1 December 2023, Ljubljana, Slovenia

About the event

Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving rapidly and its use will spread significantly in the coming years. Its further development alongside other new technologies creates opportunities but also poses risks for human rights, non-discrimination, the rule of law and democracy. Consequently, European NHRIs have identified AI and digital technologies as a critical, emerging issue that they need to equip themselves to address.

For this reason, ENNHRI organised a two-day capacity building event focused on AI. The “Co-Lab: AI” took place from 30 November – 1 December and gathered NHRI representatives from across Europe to share and learn about AI and human rights across a range of thematic and functional areas.

AI is one of ENNHRI’s thematic priorities for 2023, and will remain so in 2024. Its work on AI is guided by its Working Group – founded last year – and involves extensive engagement with regional mechanisms.

The Co-Lab: AI built on the NHRI Academy 2022, which had AI as its focus topic.

Resources from Co:Lab event

Interview with Nele Roekens

In this short video Nele Roekens from Unia (Belgian NHRI) discusses the impact of artificial intelligence on human rights and the role that NHRIs can play. This video is intended to be a short introduction to or a refresher on this topic in preparation for ENNHRI’s Co-Lab: AI capacity building event.

Session materials and summaries

Dr. Emilija Stojmenova Duh, the Minister of Digital Transformation of the Republic of Slovenia addressed the pressing challenges of our time, emphasising the erosion of human rights globally. Identifying AI and emerging technologies as potent solutions, Slovenia has integrated AI into its digital transformation strategy, outlined in key documents like “Digital Slovenia” and the “Digital Decade Plan.” The national agenda for AI focuses on six priority areas: health, industry, sustainable food, language, environment, and spatial planning. The Minister underscored the commitment to fostering trustworthy AI deployment, prioritising research, development, and ethical guidelines. Inclusive engagement of underrepresented groups, vigilance against malicious AI use, and promotion of digital literacy were highlighted. The Minister emphasized the global nature of digitalization, advocating for a united approach to regulation. Notable mention was made of the EU AI Act with its four risk levels and efforts to harmonize global AI regulations. The Minister announced a forthcoming Global Forum on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence to be held in Slovenia in partnership with UNESCO to prevent misuse and celebrate the positive impacts of AI.

Mr. Mirosław Wróblewski, Director at the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights and an ENNHRI Board member, opened the Co-Lab on AI on behalf of ENNHRI, acknowledging the collaborative efforts with the Ombudsman of Slovenia. Emphasizing the rapid evolution of AI and its extensive impact on various aspects of life, Mr. Wróblewski underscored the imperative for NHRIs to address potential risks to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. He explained that the Co-Lab: AI event aimed to facilitate peer exchange among ENNHRI members, building on prior knowledge and practices. Notably, it focused on NHRIs’ unique role in addressing AI challenges and promoting human rights. Mr. Wróblewski highlighted varying levels of NHRI engagement across Europe on AI and encouraged the sharing of experiences for collective learning and effective contributions to a human rights-based AI approach.

Nele Roekens, Chair of the ENNHRI AI Working Group, set the scene for the Co-Lab by giving a brief overview of ENNHRI’s work on the topic so far and introducing how NHRIs can work on AI using their broad mandate.

This was followed by an interactive exercise in which participants were asked to stand if they answered yes to question about their work on AI. The aim was to get a visual overview of which NHRIs are working on AI and how they are using their mandates to do this. This exercise showed that European NHRIs represented at the Co-Lab were at different stages of working on the topic, with some already undertaking extensive programmes on AI and others still taking first steps. Over half of the NHRIs present indicated they were already working on AI, while almost  a quarter stated they were working on monitoring of and reporting on AI. Around a quarter reported that their NHRI gives advice to government on policy and legislative measures related to AI and about an eighth had received complaints related to AI. Just one NHRI reported that they were in the process of doing strategic litigation related to AI.

Four NHRIs presented on how they use different aspects of their mandate to work on AI and human rights.

Line Gamrath Rasmussen, from the Danish Institute for Human Rights, presented on NHRIs’ role in supporting Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIA) for AI. Addressing the impact of technology on human rights, including datafication, information quality, mass surveillance, and cybersecurity, she introduced HRIAs as a vital methodology. The assessment’s responsibility falls on both companies and public services and can have many forms. HRIAs are not an exact science since there are different formats that are effective. It is however important that human rights are the benchmark of these assessments. Challenges in the digital space include the absence of geographical boundaries, stakeholder engagement, and timing uncertainties. Line outlined ten key principles for HRIAs in digital business activities, encompassing process and content considerations, and urged NHRIs to employ these principles for monitoring digital projects and advising governments.

Kejsi Rizo, from the People’s Advocate of Albania, discussed the country’s transformative journey toward digitalization, initiated by the government’s move in May 2022 to close physical offices and shift services online, a shift accelerated by the pandemic. The E-Albania Portal offers 1,200 public services online, impacting service provision and triggering the NHRI’s investigation into human rights implications. The NHRI acknowledged that this initiative had good intentions, but believes that this should be taken forward in steps and not have been a total shift to digital services. This change to all online services affects vulnerable groups that have limited digital skills/access and financial resources; this excludes them from access to these services. The Albanian NHRI has carried out research into this transformation based on several pillars: privacy, accessibility, transparency and accountability, and stakeholder engagement. Kejsi explained that the NHRI found many issues that need to be clarified and that there has not been enough consultation with citizens. The NHRI is working on a report that will address some challenges and focus on advocating for alternative  ways to ensure access to services for all.

Robert Bancroft from the Equality and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain highlighted that challenges in the policy-making cycle are often due to limited cooperation from state authorities. The NHRI’s proactive engagement with the UK’s AI White Paper contributed to improving the human rights and equality references in the paper. However, other interactions have been less successful, for instance the NHRI was not invited to the UK’s AI Safety Summit in November 2023. Despite active participation through ENNHRI in regional advocacy, the government has not sought the NHRI’s perspective on the Council of Europe Convention on AI. Robert emphasised engaging with Parliament and civil society for greater impact and offered reflections on the importance of focusing on proven strategies amid the possibility of advice being overlooked.

Justin , from the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, outlined their strategic programme for digitalization and human rights, focusing on equal treatment, legal protection, and engagement. The NHRI does research and has been receiving communications on AI. It is also doing rulings. Justin highlighted three AI-related cases the NHRI has dealt with. The first involved childcare allowance, where the NHRI established a presumption of discrimination against individuals with a foreign origin, leading to a reversal of the burden of proof. In the second case, a dating app sought an own conduct judgment from the NHRI to modify its algorithm to ensure equality. This resulted in a verdict that the algorithm discriminated, necessitating adjustments. The third case involved anti-cheating software thought to be discriminating against a student with darker skin.

In this panel, four expertscluding from academia and civil society, gave presentations looking at AI and its impacts across human rights and the roles that NHRIs can and do play across thematic areas.

Sue Anne Teo, from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and also an ENNHRI consultant, presented an overview of how AI impacts a broad range of human rights areas. This ranged from economic and social rights to climate change and the environment.

Francesca Centola, from Mental Health Europe (MHE), presented on AI and mental health. This included MHE’s 2022 report on the topic, which highlighted concerns such as substandard mental health support from chatbots, privacy issues, data security, equity challenges, profit-driven business models, and techno-solutionism. The presentation also underscored the potential human rights pitfalls of using data retrieval to predict mental health issues, emphasizing the threat to human autonomy and dignity. The call to shift focus from tech feasibility to human benefit emphasized the need for co-creation and ensuring inclusivity in the digital revolution.

Dr. Guilia Gentile, from the University of Essex, explored the intersection of AI and the legal system, particularly within the EU framework’s push for digitisation in the public sector and courts. She highlighted the tension between the rule of law and AI, questioning the impact on democracy, the rule of law, and the separation of powers. Three crucial considerations for NHRIs in the digitisation of courts include internal perceptions of justice, public trust in justice systems, and the epistemology of justice. She emphasised how the right to a fair trial is the most fundamental right and foundational for a democratic society. She expressed concerns about AI’s threat to judicial independence, impartiality issues, and the need for vigilance in protecting the collective good.

Caterina Rodelli, from Access Now, presented on the impact of AI on migration. Her presentation addressed techno-solutionism in the EU, focusing on border technologies and their potential impact on human rights. She highlighted concerns with database infrastructure, emphasizing the risk to privacy from extensive data collection of third-country nationals. Biometrics, profiling systems, and forecasting tools were identified as threats to non-discrimination and objectivity. Border surveillance technologies, such as drones and thermal cameras, raise issues related to the right to seek asylum and non-refoulement. She advocated for ongoing discussions between civil society organizations and NHRIs to monitor the use of these technologies and suggested positive collaboration with data protection authorities for increased transparency.

Four NHRIs representing different ENNHRI Working Groups presented on the different thematic ways that AI impacts human rights and how NHRIs can address these impacts, both individually and through the working groups.

Eva Tzavala, Greek National Commission for Human Rights and the Chair of the ENNHRI Asylum and Migration Working Group, presented on the work that the group has done on the topic of new technologies at borders. The Asylum and Migration Working Group produced a scoping paper identifying issues and proposing NHRI actions. In a training in May 2023, the group collaborated with academia, civil society organizations, and Frontex to understand the impact of new technologies on human rights and migration. Key concerns include the widespread collection of biometric data, a lack of transparency, the absence of clear legislative frameworks, and potential human rights violations. NHRIs were urged to engage in investigations, raise awareness, collaborate with civil society and data protection authorities, and conduct strategic litigation to ensure access to information, protect fundamental rights, and address the ethical use of technology. NHRIs were also encouraged to support Fundamental Rights Impact Assessments and to develop the models so they are more meaningful.

Jerneja Turin, from the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia and Chair of the ENNHRI CRPD Working Group, emphasised the positive potential of AI in fostering inclusion and accessibility for persons with disabilities. While acknowledging its benefits in education and interaction, she highlighted risks, for example in biased recruitment selection processes. Recommendations included transparency and disability-inclusive implementation by business sectors. NHRIs were urged to inform AI policy debates, applying human rights standards like the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). She suggested increased NHRI engagement in AI policies to align with international human rights law, emphasizing the need for members dedicated to examining the broad human rights impact of AI, particularly on persons with disabilities.

Thomas Dumortier, from the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) and member of both the ENNHRI Legal and AI Working Groups, presented on AI and securitisation. He also indicated that the CNCDH engaged with Parliament to prevent the application of automated video surveillance. He explored the securitisation concept in critical security studies, focusing on high-risk AI systems used for law enforcement. These included mass surveillance with remote biometric identification, automated video surveillance flagging unusual behaviors, police profiling for financial flows, predictive mapping of crime risk areas, and investigation tools evaluating evidence reliability. He raised concerns about these technologies’ human rights impact, emphasizing risks such as biased databases, infringement on the presumption of innocence through predictive policing, and the erosion of privacy and anonymity in public spaces due to extensive surveillance measures.

Andreea Moroianu, Romanian Institute for Human Rights and member of the Economics, Social and Cultural Rights Working Group, presented on the Group’s recent meeting on social rights in the digital age. This presentation followed a CoE-FRA-ENNHRI-EQUINET Platform meeting in Helsinki, which focused on social rights in the context of digitalization. The main topics included social security, workers’ rights, fair remuneration, access to digital technologies, education, and discrimination. Examples highlighted risks in social security algorithms, biased AI impacting workers’ rights, and issues in fair remuneration. The disparities in digital skills across Europe were emphasized, with a call for scrutiny and monitoring of AI systems to ensure human rights compliance. Tools like the European Social Charter were suggested for addressing challenges and protecting economic and social rights in the context of AI.

Nele Roekens, Unia and AI Working Group Chair; Erinda Ballanca, People’s Advocate of Albania and an ENNHRI Board member; and Mirosław Wróblewski, Office of the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights and an ENNHRI Board member, featured in an interactive panel to discuss the main learnings gained from the Co-Lab. They agreed that the event highlighted varying levels of engagement among NHRIs regarding AI, with challenges identified in implementing results from Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs), unclear roles in engaging with ministries, and difficulties in identifying AI usage. Positive notes included the potential of peer-exchange amongst NHRIs and the learning of good practices from peers, the potential for capacity building on AI, building on the human rights expertise of NHRIs, and the capacity of ENNHRI and NHRIs as a collective to address the AI-related challenges ahead. Working on education, HRIAs, transparency, and democratic control were emphasized as crucial for NHRIs. Priorities for NHRIs included planning AI strategies, creating guidelines, engaging in strategic litigation, collaborating among the ENNHRI Working Groups, and preparing for mainstreaming the challenge of AI affecting all human rights. Another key takeaway was the need to realise NHRIs cannot address all aspects of AI, but need to prioritise and identify what they can bring of added value, based on their mandate and roles, and in cooperation with others (for example DPAs). NHRIs also need to identify in particular the position or role of NHRIs within regional conventions, to work on implementation once adopted.

Erinda Ballanca, People’s Advocate of Albania and an ENNHRI Board member, closed the ENNHRI Co-Lab on AI in Ljubljana, expressing gratitude for the enriching two-day event. She acknowledged the collaboration with the Human Rights Ombudsman of Slovenia, commending NHRIs’ efforts in addressing AI challenges. The discussions showcased diverse NHRI approaches, emphasizing their pivotal role in safeguarding human rights amidst AI advancements. The impact of AI on various human rights, its potential for both good and harm, and challenges faced by NHRIs were highlighted. Ms. Ballanca also stressed the need for continuous vigilance, Human Rights Impact Assessments, and awareness to prevent AI-related harms. She concluded with optimism, urging for sustained collaboration, including among NHRIs through ENNHRI, for effective human rights protection in the digital age.

Further materials

Find a rich variety of further information from ENNHRI and other sources via the links below. Navigate through the selection by clicking the different circles below the boxes.

ENNHRI artificial intelligence topic page

ENNHRI submissions to regional mechanisms on artificial intelligence 

Alll NHRI Academy 2022 resources and session materials

Human rights impact assessments of AI (NHRI Academy 2022 session materials)

AI and freedom of expression (NHRI Academy 2022 session materials)

Do we need new rights for new technologies? (NHRI Academy 2022 session materials)

Fundamental rights of older people: ensuring access to public services in digital societies (EU Fundamental Rights Agency report)

Artificial intelligence and big data (EU Fundamental Rights Agency topic page)

Digital technologies pose a threat to human rights of older people (Essex University article)

Realising social rights in the age of digitalisation: opportunities and risks (Council of Europe web article)

Bodily harms: mapping the risks of emerging biometric tech (Access Now paper)

The (human) cost of artificial intelligence and surveillance technology in migration (EuroMed Rights report)

Digitalisation and mental health (Mental Health Europe report)

Digital Futures in Mind: Reflecting on Technological Experiments in Mental Health and Crisis Support (Melbourne Law School research report) 

Fundamental rights of older people: ensuring access to public services in digital societies (EU Fundamental Rights Agency report)

Key Principles for HRIA of digital business activities