A meeting of data protection authorities from around the world has highlighted the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies (AI) as a global phenomenon with the potential to affect all of humanity. A coordinated international effort was called for to develop common governance principles on the development and use of AI in accordance with ethics, human values and respect for human dignity.

The 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (conference) released a declaration on ethics and data protection in artificial intelligence (declaration). While recognising that AI systems may bring significant benefits for users and society, the conference noted that AI systems often rely on the processing of large quantities of personal data for their development. In addition, it noted that some data sets used to train AI systems have been found to contain inherent biases, resulting in decisions which unfairly discriminate against certain individuals or groups.

To counter this, the declaration endorses six guiding principles as its core values to preserve human rights in the development of AI. In summary, the guiding principles state:

1. Fairness principle

AI should be designed, developed and used in respect of fundamental human rights and in accordance with the fairness principle. The design, development and use of AI should have regard to individuals’ reasonable expectations in relation to the use of personal data and should consider the impact of AI on society at large. Systems should be developed in a way that facilitates human development and does not obstruct or endanger it.

2. Continued attention and vigilance

Continued attention, vigilance and accountability for the potential effects and consequences of AI should be ensured by promoting accountability of stakeholders; fostering collective and joint responsibility; investing in awareness and education; and establishing demonstrable governance processes.

3. Systems transparency and intelligibility

AI systems transparency and intelligibility should be improved by investing in scientific research on explainable artificial intelligence; making organisations’ practices more transparent; ensuring individuals are informed appropriately when they are interacting with AI; and providing adequate information on the purposes and effects of AI systems.

4. Ethics by design

An “ethics by design” approach should be adopted. AI should be designed and developed responsibly, by applying the principles of privacy by default and privacy by design. Technical and organisational measures and procedures should be implemented to ensure data subjects’ privacy and personal data are respected, and the impact on individuals and society should be assessed and documented at the beginning of an AI project.

5. Empowerment of every individual

The empowerment of individuals should be promoted, and the exercise of individuals’ rights should be encouraged by respecting data protection and privacy rights and promoting those rights through education. Related rights including freedom of expression and information and non-discrimination should also be respected and AI systems should be used to foster equal empowerment and enhance public engagement.

6. Reducing biases or discriminations

Unlawful biases or discriminations resulting from the use of data in AI should be reduced and mitigated, in particular by ensuring respect for international instruments on human rights and non-discrimination; investing in technical research into ways to identify, address and mitigate biases; taking steps to ensure personal data used is accurate, up-to-date and as complete as possible; and increasing awareness of specific guidance and principles in addressing biases and discrimination.

What next?

By way of its contribution to the development of common governance at the international level, the conference has established a permanent working group on ethics and data protection in artificial intelligence which will be responsible for promoting understanding of, and respect for, the six guiding principles set out in the declaration. The conference also expressed its commitment to proactively supporting an active public debate on digital ethics.