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FOC Joint Statement on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights

The Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) is a group of 32 countries deeply committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms both offline and online. We are committed to working together to support Internet freedom and human rights for individuals worldwide – including the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and privacy rights.

The FOC acknowledges that artificial intelligence (AI) systemsFootnote 1 offer unprecedented opportunities for human development and innovation, with the potential to generate social and economic benefits and help protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. When developed and used in full respect of human rights, AI systems can complement human endeavours across fields such as public and precision health and environmental science to improve people’s lives and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. States play a critical role in promoting these benefits for all.

As is considered with other digital technologies, AI systems can also be developed or used in ways that pose significant risks to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The FOC is particularly concerned by the documented and ongoing use of AI systems for repressive and authoritarian purposes, including through remote biometric identification (RBI) such as facial recognition technology,Footnote 2 as well as automated content moderation. Some states use these AI systems, often by leveraging private sector tools, to facilitate and/or mandate arbitrary or unlawful surveillance practices, and censorship practices, that are in violation of international human rights law. The application of AI systems towards repressive and authoritarian purposes can further enable and scale human rights violations and abuses.

The use of RBI and automated content moderation, especially when used by states in an unlawful or arbitrary manner, can threaten the enjoyment of human rights, including the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination and privacy rights. In particular, the use of RBI for repressive and authoritarian purposes threatens the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and liberty of movement. Likewise, the use of automated content moderation for repressive and authoritarian purposes further threatens the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, and the freedom to hold opinions without interference. This may result in a chilling effect on the right of peaceful assembly and on freedom of expression in online spaces, as well as undermine the integrity of democratic electoral processes.

The use and deployment of AI systems in ways that violate human rights, and particularly for repressive and authoritarian purposes, threatens online and offline democratic and civic spaces, including political dissent and the important work of journalists and other media workers, human rights defenders, and members of civil society worldwide. This may also further marginalize and oppress persons or groups, such as women and members of ethnic, religious and other minority communities that already face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

As a first step towards the promotion and protection of human rights, states and the private sector should endeavour to promote and increase transparency, traceability, and accountability in the design, development, procurement, and use of AI systems, with appropriate protections for intellectual property. This can help reduce the opacity, inscrutability, and unpredictability of some AI systems and help stakeholders better understand how semi-autonomous AI systems make decisions. The governance, development, and application of AI systems that are grounded in respect for human rights will promote public trust to the benefit of humanity in the long-term.

The FOC reaffirms that states must abide by their obligations under international human rights law to ensure that human rights are fully respected and protected. As also noted in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, “States must protect against human rights abuse within their territory and/or jurisdiction by third parties, including business enterprises.”Footnote 3 We welcome multi-stakeholder attention to this issue in international fora.

Calls to action:

To promote respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in the design, development, procurement, and use of AI systems, the FOC calls on states to work towards the following actions in collaboration with the private sector, civil society, academia, and all other relevant stakeholders:

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