23 Nov 2023

ENNHRI engagement to strengthen human rights protections of draft European standards on AI

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving rapidly and its use is spreading significantly in all areas of life. Further development of AI and new technologies is creating many opportunities, but also posing serious risks for human rights, non-discrimination, the rule of law and democracy. ENNHRI works to strengthen human rights protections in two draft European instruments under negotiation at the Council of Europe and in the European Union.

ENNHRI is advocating for a human rights-based approach to AI regulation as part of the two major, ongoing legislative processes in Europe. They are the European Union’s Artificial Intelligence Act (EU AI Act) and the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on AI, human rights, democracy and rule of law. These two conventions will be historic milestones – both regionally and globally – and make Europe a world leader in AI regulation.

ENNHRI has observer status at the Council of Europe’s Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAI). It actively participates in the negotiations for and regularly provides written and oral input to the draft Convention. In its most recent key messages to the CAI, ENNHRI made recommendations how the text can be strengthened to ensure the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These included calls for the private sector to be included in the scope of the Convention and for any limitations related to national security to be legal, necessary and proportionate.

At the same time, the negotiations for the EU AI Act are in a critical phase. The EU AI Act is expected to be agreed upon soon, with the next trilogue happening on 6 December. In a new joint statement, ENNHRI and Equinet urge the co-legislators to prioritise equality and fundamental rights and ensure that these are robustly protected in the legislation.

Since the European Commission’s presentation of the AI Act, Equinet and ENNHRI have consistently called for strong and effective equality and fundamental rights guardrails. These are to ensure appropriate balancing between the Act’s twin objectives of promoting trust and innovation in AI. With this legislative process reaching a conclusion, there are critical equality and fundamental rights considerations to be taken into account. The statement contains a set of key recommendations on how to strengthen equality and fundamental rights.

What NHRIs can do and materials to use

Both of these regulatory instruments will have important impacts in each European country. To ensure that human rights are promoted and protected in both of them, we encourage all ENNHRI members to engage with their relevant national authorities using the points outlined in the joint statement and key messages. For further information, please contact Sophie Hale (Sophie.hale@ennhri.org) at the ENNHRI Secretariat.

  • Download ENNHRI’s and Equinet’s joint statement on the EU’s AI Act.
  • Download ENNHRI and Equinet’s key recommendations on ensuring strong equality and fundamental rights safeguards in the EU AI Act.
  • Download ENNHRI’s key messages to the Council of Europe’s CAI.

Read more about ENNHRI’s work on artificial intelligence.

Update on policy developments

On December 8, the European Parliament and Council of the European Union reached a political agreement on the EU AI Act. This agreement is a milestone for shaping rights in the digital age. While the AI Act puts in place some crucial fundamental rights safeguards, several loopholes and exemptions could undermine this. The final text should be agreed in early 2024.

This article was updated on 18 December to reflect the reaching of a political agreement on the EU’s AI Act.