Automated Decision Making and its Impact on Human Rights in a Time of COVID-19

This seminar will consider how to achieve meaningful algorithmic accountability that contains appropriate safeguards for fundamental rights and freedoms of online users. The EU Digital Services Act proposal (DSA) establishes a new set of due diligence obligations for very large online platforms (VLOP). Newly proposed measures require VLOPs to conduct risk assessment of significant systemic risks stemming from the functioning and use of their services in the EU. These systemic risks include the dissemination of illegal content, negative effects for the exercise of fundamental rights, particularly the rights to privacy and data protection, freedom of expression, the prohibition of discrimination, the rights of the child and intentional manipulation of their service.

A similar approach was developed within the GDPR legal framework. That, however, created a significant loophole by allowing the data controller to determine alone whether a system poses a high risk and whether a data protection impact assessment is needed. This leaves open a scenario in which risks could in fact be downplayed, leading to a reduction in user safeguards. This seminar will address potential negative outcomes of the proposed risk based approach for fundamental rights and freedoms and discuss alternative solutions that are human rights centric and will lead to users’ empowerment in the online ecosystem.

Eliška Pírková works as Europe Policy Analyst at Access Now, an international civil society organisation that defends and extends digital rights of online users at risk. At Access Now, she leads European work on content governance and the protection of freedom of expression online, including the EU Digital Services Act proposal and the European Democracy Action Plan, among others. She is a human rights lawyer by education and training, with previous experience working for international organisations and as a legal researcher. She is a member of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Speech, nominated by the Council of Europe as an independent expert.

Dr Mathias Vermeulen will act as a discussant. He is the Public Policy Director at AWO and an affiliated researcher at the Centre for Law, Science, Technology and Society at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research interests focus in general on the legal and ethical challenges of the use of new technologies, and European policy issues related to online content regulation and platform accountability. Earlier he worked at a range of different organisations on these topics, including the European Parliament and the European University Institute. Mathias holds a Ph.D. in European privacy and data protection law from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and has a European Masters in Human Rights and Democratization from the European Inter-University Centre in Italy.