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November 21, 2018

International declaration highlights privacy issues related to artificial intelligence

Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien and his global counterparts have adopted a Declaration on Ethics and Data Protection in Artificial Intelligence at the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners.

The declaration recognizes the benefits that artificial intelligence may bring to people and society, including improving efficiency in the public sector and industry, and new methods and solutions in fields such as public health and medical care and sustainable development.

Artificial intelligence, however, can also present challenges to privacy and data protection rights. The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence should be complemented by ethical and human rights considerations. The declaration states that “the current challenges triggered by the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning systems reinforce the need for the adoption of an international approach and standards, in order to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in all digital developments at international level.”

One challenge will be the prevention of discrimination against people resulting from decisions made by artificial intelligence systems. Some data sets used to train machine learning-based and artificial intelligence systems have been found to contain inherent bias, resulting in decisions which can unfairly discriminate against certain individuals or groups. That discrimination could potentially result in the restriction of availability of certain services or content, and thus interfere with individuals’ rights such as freedom of expression and information, or result in the exclusion of people from certain aspects of personal, social and professional life.

The declaration endorses several guiding principles, including fairness, transparency and privacy by design, as core values to preserve human rights in the development of artificial intelligence.

“Technology must serve humankind, that is all individuals,” Commissioner Therrien says. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the digitization of so much of our lives is reshaping humanity. If we are not careful, it will be reshaped in ways that do not accord with our most fundamental rights and values.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is actively monitoring artificial intelligence developments in Canada and internationally. In anticipation of developing guidance, the office is engaging on artificial intelligence issues in the public and private sectors.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and its provincial counterpart from Quebec were among the 14 co-sponsors of the declaration. It was co-written by data protection and privacy commissioners from France, Italy and the European Union. The international conference took place in Brussels from October 23 to 26.

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