Exploring implications of big data and artificial intelligence for knowledge societies and SDGs

21 Dec 2017 09:00h - 10:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

This session, moderated by Ms Xianhong Hu, Program Specialist at the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO, featured discussions on the implications of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) for knowledge societies and the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). As an introduction, Hu referred to the work of UNESCO in defending the universality of norms and human rights when dealing with new technologies, mentioning in particular UNESCO’s promotion of the concept of Internet universality, which promotes online rights, openness, accessibility, and multistakeholder participation.

Ms Mila Romanoff, Data Privacy and Data Protection Legal Specialist at United Nations Global Pulse, presented the work of Global Pulse, which is a special initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General on big data and AI. The goal of Global Pulse is to promote awareness of the opportunities big data presents for sustainable development and humanitarian action, while addressing data sharing and privacy protection challenges and risks. Global Pulse has, for instance, contributed to the drafting of the UN’s Guidance Note on Big Data for SDGs: Data Privacy, Ethics and Data Protection.

Ms Sophie Kwasny, Head of the Data Protection Unit of the Council of Europe (CoE), followed by presenting recent developments at the CoE in addressing the data protection challenges brought by the rise of AI and big data. Big data technologies often lead to the processing of massive amounts of personal data, understood as data enabling the identification or re-identification of a person. The CoE has recently worked on the modernisation of its convention on data protection in order to address these new challenges, by introducing, for instance, new rights for data subjects in the context of automated processing. This modernised convention is a general legal text, which is less detailed than the recently adopted EU General Data Protection Regulation; it is also open to non-European countries. Kwasny also highlighted the adoption by the CoE in January 2017 of Guidelines on the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data in a World of Big Data.

Ms Nanjira Sambuli, Advocacy Manager at the Web Foundation, argued that any new technologies, such as big data and AI, could become tools of oppression if they are used in countries where there is no strong framework supporting human rights. When addressing how AI and big data could be used in developing countries, there needs to be an assessment of how previous technologies have benefited communities in the past. Moreover, the lack of understanding and culture of consent online is problematic in developing countries, since informed consent should be necessary for big data processing.

Mr Tijani Ben Jemaa, Director of the Mediterranean Federation of Internet Associations (FMAI), highlighted the importance of data protection in dealing with AI and big data. Personal data is crucial to understand the needs of consumers and improve the quality of online services, but it may also be used for nefarious purposes without the consent of the individuals concerned. The recent EU General Data Protection Regulation provides interesting legal solutions and rigorous requirements in order to address the risks brought by big data processing. The behaviour of Internet users is also key in addressing the data protection risks that could be generated by AI and big data.

Mr Frits Bussemaker, Chair of the Institute for Accountability and Internet Democracy, Germany, argued that the Internet is transforming and shaping our societies and individual behaviours. Nonetheless, the interpretation of core values of the Internet is not uniform across the world. For instance, the term ‘consent’ is not interpreted in the same way in different locations. Bussemaker invited the audience to follow the next event, organised in collaboration with UNESCO and ITU in May 2018, to address what accountability on the Internet means for all, and discuss the Internet values and their implications.  

By Clément Perarnaud