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NGOs critical of biometrics technology excluded from process to draft EU AI treaty

NGOs critical of biometrics technology excluded from process to draft EU AI treaty

Some civil society organizations which have vocally opposed the use of biometrics technologies such as facial recognition say they have been excluded from a process to draft an international artificial intelligence (AI) treaty, a project undertaken by the Council of Europe (CoE).

The AI treaty being worked on is a draft legislative framework which will act as the basis for the development, deployment and use of AI-based technologies in line with the CoE’s standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Reporting by Euractiv indicates that the exclusion was proposed by the United States government and affects organizations including Algorithm Watch, Fair Trials, Homo Digitalis and the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organizations.

As an example, Algorithm Watch last year joined a campaign of around 177 civil society organizations to call for an outright ban on biometric recognition technologies, saying they are an enabler of discriminatory surveillance which is an infringement on human rights.

Euractiv reports that a decision was reached by the CoE to the effect that the drafting process will happen behind closed doors and the civil society organizations will only be brought in later in the process to give their comments on the already drafted document. Also, the organizations will not see the final text of the document before it is adopted by the CoE plenary.

Euractiv cites anonymous sources as suggesting that the CoE’s secretariat seems to be under pressure from the United States on the exclusion proposal, as the former is reported to want the latter to be a signatory to the treaty.

The plan to exclude civil society organizations from the process to draft the first-ever treaty on artificial intelligence has not gone down well with the organizations concerned. Euractiv quotes a petition written by them in which they insist the move goes against the “examples of good practice” from the Council of Europe and the body’s own “standards on civil participation in political decision-making.”

The treaty, when drafted, will be examined and vetted by the CoE’s 46 members who include the 27 members of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Ukraine; and the United States, Canada, Mexico Israel as members with observer status.

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