Artificial intelligence - Digital network
4 March 2019

Artificial intelligence: States should lose no time in coming to grips with the crucial issues for democracies and fundamental freedoms

The Minister of Justice was in Helsinki (Finland) on 26 February 2019 as guest of honour at the conference on artificial intelligence, at which she presented the major actions taken, in particular in France, in order to continue guaranteeing civil liberties.
Reminding participants that, according to the Franco-Finnish Statement of 30 August 2018, "Governments need to play an active role in promoting a fair, inclusive and human-centric vision of artificial intelligence", Nicole Belloubet stressed that States should lose no time in coming to grips with the crucial issues for democracies and fundamental freedoms.

Fostering access to justice while protecting fundamental freedoms

France has just adopted a digital transformation plan that aims to develop a fully functional digital public justice service by 2022, enabling (among other things) users to follow cases online. But it is the citizen who is well and truly at the heart of the project:
  • The transformation is a supplementary means of access to justice. It is not a substitute for traditional modes of referring cases to courts.
  • Reception services have been set up to assist any litigants who are unfamiliar with digital technology.
Digital availability of judicial decisions will also enable deployment of artificial intelligence. The project is an opportunity both for citizens and law professionals, who will have easier access to case-law, as well as for judges, as artificial intelligence will act as a decision support tool without depriving them of their role.

These goals will be implemented in full respect of private life as guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In decisions that are published online, any content that might enable identification of the individuals concerned will have to be deleted. The many other principles that will have to guide the development of artificial intelligence, identified by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice in its Ethical Charter, include respect of fundamental rights, non-discrimination, neutrality, transparency, user control, hosting security and controlled use of predictive justice.

Challenges to democracies

But artificial intelligence can also be a threat to democratic debate, one example being the propagation of fake news during election periods.

The integrity of electoral processes, election campaigns and polling has been undermined in France as it has elsewhere, leading to the opening of criminal investigations in a number of countries. We must therefore remain extremely vigilant with regard to opinion manipulation through propagation of fake news, often by automated means. It is not a question of attacking freedom of expression but rather of preserving freedom of opinion.

This being so, France enacted a law "bearing on the fight against manipulation of information" on 22 December 2018. Online platforms now have obligations of transparency with regard to content of sponsored information and identity of sponsors where significant remuneration (100 euros) is involved. Platforms must also appoint a legal representative on French territory. Only the biggest platforms are concerned, i.e. those with over 5 million single visitors a month. The law also institutes an emergency judicial procedure, known as "référé anti-infox" an interim ruling to combat deliberate dissemination of information seeking to undermine the fairness of an election.

The hate speech and racist and anti-Semitic posts that proliferate on the Internet are a second example of the challenge to democracies, as they undoubtedly jeopardise the equality of citizens before the law without distinction of origin, race or religion.

We must therefore combat such messages by finding effective ways of countering them (also certainly thanks to artificial intelligence): removal within 24 hours or imposition of stiff fines, host responsibility, and designation of platform representatives in each country.

The Minister ended her contribution by reminding her audience that these questions inherent to technological progress will not find satisfactory solutions at national level alone, going on to pay tribute to the work carried out by the Council of Europe, which plans to implement a legal framework on disinformation during election periods.