Equinet report

In 2019, Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters were instructed by Equinet, the European Network of Equality Bodies, to look at the ways in which Equality Bodies could ensure that AI systems embraced the principle of non-discrimination. A copy of the Report, published on 10 June 2020, with a foreword from Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, is available here.

Equinet comments

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become an area of strategic importance for the European Union (EU). The technology of AI, as part of the wider digitalization process that Europe is going through, is mentioned as a  priority in Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024. Already in 2018, the Board of Equinet noted the lack of any European study on the benefits and risks to the principle of equality caused by AI from the perspective of equality bodies. As such, it committed to carrying out a study on the consequences of digitalisation for (in)equality and the role national equality bodies (NEBs) can play in this field. The present Report: “Regulating for an Equal AI: A New Role for Equality Bodies fills this crucial gap and aims to trigger discussions across Europe on the effect that new AI-enabled technologies may have on the principle of equality. 

By looking at the uses of Artificial Intelligence (AI), algorithms, machine learning (ML), and automated decision-making (ADM), the report shows that equality should be a central consideration in any EU approach on the human and ethical implications of AI. Equality bodies have a vital role to play in securing the benefits of AI, however, national authorities need to provide them with adequate and meaningful powers as well as secure and sufficient resources

National equality bodies are key advisers to states, the European Commission and the Council of Europe on the gaps in the protection against discrimination within their states. They provide expertise on how these gaps might be filled, and this may now also include discrimination in the context of AI systems. National and European authorities therefore need to enable the full involvement of NEBs in national and European expert bodies working on new strategies and legislation for AI. As such, NEBs should also be a first point of reference about AI systems and their impact on equality and non-discrimination for all actors and stakeholders involved.   

Equality bodies, as the leading specialised institutions for implementing and enforcing EU equality legislation, are well positioned to make a key contribution to shaping any future regulatory developments on the human and ethical implications of AI. This report summarizes how Equinet’s Members are currently working to adequately respond to the new challenges arising from AI systems. It considers the available legal resources for Equinet’s Members to see how the existing equalities framework can be applied to tackle discrimination arising from such AI-related challenges.

In order to properly address the new AI-related challenges facing all European Equality Bodies, this Report suggests responses to the following six key questions which have been considered at every stage in its preparation:  

What tasks should Equinet’s Members undertake to ensure that AI, ML and ADM advance and do not hinder equality and non-discrimination?  

What capacity do Equinet’s Members have for this?  

How can they be assisted to gain better capacity?  

Who or what are the other actors in this field with which Equinet’s Members should be working?  

Does the current discourse on the ethical approach to AI support legal rights to equality?  

How well do the other regulatory tools available in states work with equality rights in the context of AI?  

The Report: “Regulating for an Equal AI: A New Role for Equality Bodies brings together the results of the study whilst showcasing the current work of NEBs and includes a set of recommendations for the future work of Equinet and its members. Noting that protecting equality from AI-related threats is a collaborative effort, requiring NEBs to cooperate with several actors and stakeholders, the report also provides a practical evaluation tool for assessing whether AI-enabled products and services comply with existing equality law.

Two additional documents have been created to facilitate the communication and the implementation of the main findings of this report. The Summary and Framework for Action for Equality Bodies gives an outline of the report, offers concrete messages which NEBs can use in their work with external stakeholders and suggests specific actions that NEBs can take at the equality body level and national level to prevent AI-based discrimination. The Good Practice Guide gives an overview of promising practices in AI-related equality oversight and protection by European equality bodies. As Equinet, we warmly encourage you to use these documents and the related report to contribute to the ongoing European Commission Consultation on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to ensure that the future approach of the European Union on AI policy and regulation takes equality seriously.  

For more advice on the implementation of AI driven tools, please contact Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters from here.