21 Sep 2022

Ensuring a human rights based-approach to artificial intelligence: NHRIs contribute to Council of Europe draft convention

The Council of Europe’s draft Convention on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law marks a milestone. Alongside the EU’s upcoming AI Act, it will set out the first regional human rights standards on AI. In its new submission, ENNHRI outlines how the Convention can ensure human rights-based approaches to the use of AI. Furthermore, it emphasises the importance of strong accountability in future implementation of the Convention at national and regional level.  

Against the backdrop of the profound and dynamic impact of AI on societies, environments, and human lives, ENNHRI welcomes the development of this binding convention on AI.

In its submission, ENNHRI underscores the need for a human rights-based approach to the use of AI, while highlighting how National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can provide strong, independent oversight of this. As all fundamental rights are affected by AI, NHRIs underline that the Convention must be broad enough to protect against individual, collective, and societal risks.

Building on their contribution to the European Commission White Paper on Artificial Intelligence (AI), NHRIs reiterate the need to ensure long-term protection and, insofar as possible, future-proof against applications of AI that present an unacceptable risk to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Among the practices they regard as posing such a threat are the use of biometric controls for migration management and AI systems by law enforcement and judicial authorities.

ENNHRI also affirms the need to have national supervisory authorities to monitor compliance with the Convention and prohibit practices posing an unacceptable risk. National human rights authorities, such as NHRIs, are ideally placed to fulfil this role. These authorities should enjoy formal and functional independence in line with existing standards, for example the Council of Europe’s Recommendation on NHRIs.

Whether or not NHRIs are appointed as supervisory authorities, ENNHRI urges that the Convention stipulates cooperation with NHRIs and other existing human rights authorities. This includes their right to access information on how AI is used and the data gathered by it in order to carry out their mandates.

Beyond this, ENNHRI highlights the importance of multi-stakeholder participation and public consultation. This is crucial to ensure that the huge impact of digital technologies is comprehensively monitored, debated, and addressed. Indeed, the Convention should foresee additional responsibilities for the private and public sectors. For instance, by explicitly recognising businesses’ responsibility to respect human rights and that public authorities are the main duty bearers.

ENNHRI will further engage with the Council of Europe on the basis of this common position. As a first step, it will participate in the drafting group meeting of the Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAI) on 21-23 September 2022.

Read the full submission. Earlier this year, the NHRI Academy 2022 examined AI and human rights. Visit its dedicated page for full session summaries and an extensive list of resources.