Civil Society organizations would like to respond to the EU statement directed toward the members of the Council of Europe (CoE) Committee on AI (CAI) and Observers (which includes Civil Society Organizations) regarding the upcoming/draft COE Convention on Artificial Intelligence.
We begin by noting that Artificial Intelligence is a rapidly evolving technology that touches every aspect of our lives. These systems make decisions every day about who is hired, who receives public benefits, who is admitted to university, and who is sentenced to prison. Few technologies have permeated our lives so quickly or raised so many questions about human dignity, autonomy, and justice.
As Civil Society Organizations, we have worked to document these problems and to propose solutions. We share the views of others that new technologies can be a force for good and advance social progress. But this necessarily requires the democratic rules to ensure that we control the use of these technologies, that they do not control us. The establishment of rules for governance for AI is central to this work.
Civil society closely follows the work of the European Union to develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for AI as we strongly support the work of this Committee to prepare a Convention on AI based on the Council of Europe and its mandate. We actively participate in the work of the EU institutions on the AI Act. We have also devoted two years to the work of the CoE AI preparatory committee, the CAHAI. We believe the final report of the CAHAI sets out many of the legal elements that are necessary for a comprehensive AI treaty to safeguard fundamental rights, protect democratic institutions, and uphold the rule of law.
We are therefore surprised and disappointed to see the Statement issued by the European Union regarding this undertaking, which essentially suspends the participation of EU states in the CAI process – states that have already actively contributed to the CAHAI recommendation – while the EU sorts out its participation in this matter.
To be clear, there are currently areas of overlap between the proposed Artificial Intelligence Act of the EU and the Convention on Artificial Intelligence of the CoE. But it is also clear that the EU and the CoE have different mandates, different constituencies, and serve different purposes. The ministries participating in the work on the EU AI Act primarily focused on the regulation of the internal market. The ministries participating in the work on the COE AI Treaty are responsible for the protection of fundamental rights.
We fully understand the need for a coordinated approach. At the same time, we see no need to suspend the forward progress of the work of the Committee on AI. We are further concerned about certain suggestions that appear to invite additional delay in the CoE process and to limit the outcome of the CoE’s work.
It is vitally important to move forward the CoE work on Artificial Intelligence. We wish to remind the EU that other international organizations, recognizing the urgency of this moment, produced substantial frameworks for Artificial Intelligence in less two years.
More than two years have passed since the Council of Europe launched its work on Artificial Intelligence. And two years have passed since the EU issued its White Paper. It is time now to move toward the finish line.
We urge the EU to consider carefully the consequences of delaying the important work of the COE Committee on AI.
There is no pause button for the deployment of AI systems. If anything, AI holds down the button labeled “fast forward.” This is not the moment to hit the pause button on democratic governance/policy-makinginstitutions. The work of the Council of Europe on the AI Treaty must continue without undue delay.
Center for AI and Digital Policy
Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe
Global Partner Digital
Istanbul Bar Association
(more names to be added)
"The European Commission has managed to postpone discussions on the Council of Europe’s treaty on Artificial Intelligence, with a view to obtaining a mandate to negotiate on behalf of the EU. Further delays might still follow as the bloc tries to get its act together."