AI and Human Rights

Automated filters and controlled news offerings can threaten freedom of expression and fundamental rights. The Council of Europe is countering with several measures.

Without appropriate regulatory steps, artificial intelligence (AI)-based filters as well as microtargeting-based news offerings threaten citizens’ freedom of expression and information in the Council of Europe’s 47 member states. The organization’s Council of Ministers, meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus adopted resolutions on AI filters and the protection of freedom of expression under conditions of media change, increasing attacks on journalists and the pandemic situation often misused as a pretext for restrictions on news coverage.

For several years, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg has been issuing increasingly frequent warnings that freedom of expression and media freedom are under serious threat. With the four resolutions, the members, which include states such as Turkey and Azerbaijan, known for their persecution of journalists, pledge to counter the deterioration of the situation. Only one of the 47 member countries, Russia, attached a dissenting statement to the resolutions.

Content moderation yes, but controlled

In the statement, the Council of Europe states express concern that existing approaches to content moderation do not always meet the requirements in terms of legality, legitimacy and proportionality of Article 10.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Overblocking must be prevented by lawmakers, he said, as must the incorporation of bias and prejudice into AI routines.

In addition, member countries are imposing on themselves to provide avenues of appeal against unjustified takedowns. Together with those who develop and use AI to produce, moderate and distribute digital content, they will seek cooperative or co-regulatory procedures to prevent violations of freedom of expression and information, he said. At the same time, he said, the companies themselves are required to check their designs for potential threats to fundamental rights as they are being developed.

National plans to protect journalists

The member states concede stronger legislative measures in their own declaration for the protection of journalists. Due to a disastrous record of the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalists’ Safety in the Council of Europe Area, national action plans are urgent, the ministers announced yesterday.

According to the Council of Europe platform, attacks on media professionals increased by 40 percent in member states in 2020, with a record 52 cases involving physical attacks. Of the 27 murders of journalists in the Council of Europe area since 2015, 22 remain unsolved to date, the ministers concede in their statement.

Other tools against inconvenient journalists include multimillion-dollar damages suits, so-called Strategic legal lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), or, in the Corona year, the passage of intimidating fake news laws in several member countries. There was a separate statement on the danger this posed to media freedom.

Russia: No protection for bloggers, no national action plans

Council of Europe member Russia was openly unconvinced by yesterday’s decisions. The protection of other media actors was dispensable. The Russian Federation rejects the inclusion of gender designations other than man and woman in the document and, incidentally, women and men are equally affected by attacks on journalists. The culprits, by the way, are private companies in Russia’s view, so Russia also recommends internationally binding rules in its lengthy special opinion to better regulate digital intermediaries. The action plan for Russia to protect journalists is really unnecessary in Russia, the statement said.