New developments and prospects in data protection (with regard to AI)

29 Jun 2021 12:45h - 13:45h

Event report

‘New developments and prospects in data protection (with regard to AI)’, the workshop moderated by Ms Umek Urška (Council of Europe), aimed to shed light on the existing data protection mechanisms, as well as discuss whether, and to what extent, they can be applied to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. While AI solutions create numerous opportunities, they also pose risks to the exercise of human rights, application of the rule of law, and functioning of democratic societies, to name a few.

Between innovation and privacy protection

AI-powered technologies are often used to process personal data. Although the data protection instruments, such as the CoE Convention 108 and GDPR are in place, ‘they were not designed with AI in mind’, Urška noted.

Mr Alessandro Mantelero (Associate Professor, Politecnico di Torino), responding to the question on the intersection of AI and data protection, stressed that the development and application of AI technologies added a new layer to data protection regulation. Given that discussion on the benefits and risks of AI goes beyond the issue of data, Mantelero pointed out that the focus on data is no longer sufficient in addressing all of the AI-related challenges. Similarly, Mr Jean-Christophe Le Toquin (Stakeholder relations, Videntifier Technologies ehf) warned of the multifold risks posed by emerging technologies such as deep learning. Algorithms can produce biased results and mistakes previously unforeseen by their developers.

That is why the regulations prepared by the Ad hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI) of the Council of Europe and the European Union intend to transcend data protection and consider the potential consequences and negative impact of the use of AI.

The state of the AI at the European and national level

In addition to legal frameworks on data protection, the panelists also touched on the existing AI strategies published by the EU and some of the EU member states. To this end, Ms Emanuela Girardi (Founder and President of Pop AI, Member of CLAIRE’s Industry Taskforce and Board Member of Adra) acknowledged that the EU published its AI strategy somewhat late in comparison to AI superpowers. This, however, allowed the EU to create a vision based on European values, and promote a European ecosystem where AI technologies and systems are developed safely and securely.

Girardi then referred to the Italian AI strategy which shows that technologies alone are not enough. What is needed is an entire technology system which includes connectivity, blockchain, data and the relevant data infrastructure, supercomputers working with the data, and much more. She also highlighted the three main pillars of the strategy: AI for the human being, AI for a trustworthy and productive digital ecosystem, and AI for sustainable development. With regards to the latter, Girardi noted that the development of AI requires a paradigm shift from a human-centred to a planet-centred approach.

Empowering data subjects

Addressing the comments previously made by the discussion participants, Girardi noted that the main problem lies in the fact that the users are usually unaware which data they share on the internet daily or what could be done with their personal data. Therefore, an investment in educational programs is perceived as critical to help users better understand AI technologies, their benefits, as well as risks.