UN urges moratorium on use of AI threatening human rights

15 September 2021, 15:04

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
UN Human Rights Artificial Intelligence. Picture: PA

Applications that should be prohibited included government ‘social scoring’ systems that judge people based on their behaviour.

The UN is calling for a moratorium on the use of artificial intelligence technology that poses a serious risk to human rights, including face-scanning systems that track people in public spaces.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also said that countries should expressly ban AI applications that did not comply with international human rights law.

Applications that should be prohibited included government “social scoring” systems that judge people based on their behaviour and certain AI-based tools that categorise people into clusters by ethnicity or gender for example.

AI-based technologies could be a force for good but they could also “have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Ms Bachelet said in a statement.

Her comments came with a new UN report examining how countries and businesses have rushed into applying AI systems that affect people’s lives and livelihoods without setting up proper safeguards to prevent discrimination and other harms.

She did not call for an outright ban of facial recognition technology, but said governments should halt the scanning of people’s features in real time until they can show the technology is accurate, will not discriminate and meets certain privacy and data protection standards.

While countries were not mentioned by name in the report, China in particular has been among the countries who have rolled out facial recognition technology — particularly as part of surveillance in the western region of Xinjiang, where many of its minority Uighurs live.

The report also voiced concern about tools that try to deduce people’s emotional and mental states by analysing their facial expressions or body movements, saying such technology was susceptible to bias, misinterpretation and lacked scientific basis.

“The use of emotion recognition systems by public authorities, for instance for singling out individuals for police stops or arrests or to assess the veracity of statements during interrogations, risks undermining human rights, such as the rights to privacy, to liberty and to a fair trial,” the report said.

The report’s recommendations echo the thinking of many political leaders in Western democracies, who hope to tap into AI’s economic and societal potential while addressing growing concerns about the reliability of tools that can track and profile individuals and make recommendations about who gets access to jobs, loans and educational opportunities.

Microsoft logo
Microsoft and other US tech giants are backing efforts to set limits on the riskiest uses (Niall Carson/PA)

European regulators have already taken steps to rein in the riskiest AI applications. Proposed regulations outlined by European Union officials this year would ban some uses of AI, such as real-time scanning of facial features, and tightly control others that could threaten people’s safety or rights.

US president Joe Biden’s administration has voiced similar concerns about such applications, although it has not yet outlined a detailed approach to curtailing them.

A newly formed group called the Trade and Technology Council, jointly led by American and European officials, has sought to collaborate on developing shared rules for AI and other tech policy.

Efforts to set limits on the riskiest uses have been backed by Microsoft and other US tech giants who hope to guide the rules affecting the technology they have helped to build.

By Press Association

More Technology News

See more More Technology News

Nadine Dorries

Nadine Dorries uses TikTok rap to explain Online Safety Bill

Apple iPhones

Accessibility tools a ‘core value’ for Apple, says director

Social media

Facebook owner Meta updates privacy policy

The Queen with her corgis

‘PJ the corgi’ Platinum Jubilee emoji unveiled on royal Twitter account

Tesla and SpaceX chief executive officer Elon Musk

Shares jump as Elon Musk revises Twitter financing plan

A child using a laptop

New digital platform launched to boost online safety lessons for children

Glastonbury Festival 2019

EE expects Glastonbury data usage to double at this year’s festival

Ford geofencing technology

Ford trials geofencing tech to automatically control vehicle speed

The Duomo in Milan on Google Street View

Google Street View’s ‘time travel’ feature comes to smartphones

Facebook

Facebook and Instagram to reveal more on how ads target users

Mark Zuckerberg

Washington sues Mark Zuckerberg over Cambridge Analytica privacy breach

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones

More powerful cameras key to smartphone success, says Google manager

An underwater drone on a ship deck

Underwater drone carries out first-ever offshore wind farm inspection

Child uses laptop

Create watchdog to protect children online, charity says

Technology Stock

Dark web ‘scramble’ over Buffalo attack amid fears of post-pandemic attacks

Technology stock

Twitter users told to be wary of scam messages about verified accounts