The European Union has set digital transformation as one of its key pillars for the next five years. New data-driven technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), offer societal benefits – but addressing their potential risks to our democratic values, the rule of law, and fundamental rights must be a top priority.

“By driving a human rights-centric digital agenda Europe has the opportunity to continue being the leading voice on data protection and privacy,” said Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at European Digital Rights (EDRi). “This means ensuring fundamental rights protections for personal data processing and digitalisation, and a regulatory framework for governing the full lifecycle of AI applications.”

The EU must proactively ensure that regulatory frameworks (such as GDPR and the future ePrivacy Regulation) are implemented and enforced effectively. Where this doesn’t suffice, the EU and its Member States must ensure that the legislative ecosystem is “fit for the digital age”. This can be done by increasing the comprehensiveness (filling gaps and closing loopholes), clarity (clear interpretation), and transparency of EU and national rules. The principles of necessity and proportionality should always be front and centre whenever there is an inference with fundamental rights.

To deal with technological developments in a thorough way, in addition to data protection and privacy legislation, we need to take a look at other areas, such as competition rules and consumer law – including civil liability for harmful products or algorithms. Adopting a strong ePrivacy Regulation to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of our communications is also crucial.

From a fundamental rights perspective, one specific concern is the deployment of facial recognition technologies – whether AI-based or not.

“It is of utmost importance and urgency that the EU prevents the deployment of mass surveillance and identification technologies without fully understanding their impacts on people and their rights, and without ensuring that these systems are fully compliant with data protection and privacy law as well as all other fundamental rights,” said Naranjo.

Facial recognition and fundamental rights 101 (04.12.2020)

The human rights impacts of migration control technologies (12.02.2020)

A Human-Centric Digital Manifesto for Europe