Transatlantic call series: machine learning and human rights

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 15th October 2019

How can we minimise the negative impact of the use of algorithms and machine learning on our human rights? What cases are litigators in the US and Europe working on to take on this important issue?

Today’s fourth installment in DFF’s transatlantic call series addressed machine learning and human rights. EFF kicked off the conversation by telling participants about their work on the use of machine learning in various aspects of the criminal justice system. This includes the use of algorithms for determining risk of reoffending as well as determining the guilt of an alleged offender. EFF spoke about an ongoing case (California v. Johnson) in which they filed an amicus brief, arguing that criminal defendants should be able to scrutinise algorithms that have been used by prosecutors to secure a conviction.

A common thread in EFF’s work in this area is the need to ensure that government use of algorithms in decision-making processes is conducted in as fair and transparent a manner as possible. This is similar to the approach taken by PILP, who are challenging the use by government agencies in the Netherlands of “risk profiling” algorithms. These profiles are used to detect the likelihood of individuals committing fraud. The system, called “SyRI“, involves the pooling of citizens’ data that has been collected by the state in a variety of different contexts, after which algorithms calculate whether certain citizens pose a ‘risk’ of committing abuse, non-compliance or even fraud in the context of social security, tax payments, and labour law.

PILP shared how the SyRI system has a disproportionate impact on the poorest parts of the population. The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has submitted an amicus brief in the case, saying that the SyRI system poses “significant potential threats to human rights, in particular for the poorest in society”.

Following a further exchange on these cases and other work being done in this area, DFF also shared details of its ongoing projects on Artificial Intelligence and human rights. In November, DFF is organising a workshop together with the AI Now Institute to explore litigation opportunities to limit the negative impact on human rights posed by AI. Also, DFF’s Legal Adviser Jonathan McCully is working together with a technologist in the context of a Mozilla Fellowship to create two resources — one for lawyers and another for technologists, data scientists, and digital rights activists — that provide tools for working together effectively when taking cases against human rights violations caused by AI.

Our next transatlantic call will take place on 13 November and will focus on content moderation. It is not too late to join: get in touch to register your attendance!

Transatlantic call series: uniting digital rights litigators to challenge anti-encryption measures

By Jason Williams-Quarry, 11th October 2019

This week, we held our third transatlantic call, hosting a conversation between digital rights litigators in Europe and the US. Following a conversation about potential areas for transatlantic collaboration last week, this week’s call focused on encryption.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told participants about their work challenging anti-encryption measures. These organisations frequently collaborate to challenge anti-encryption, seeking protection of the rights of individuals (and their devices) under the Fifth Amendment. This protects people under investigation from being forced to open their devices to police or courts, as doing so may violate their right against self-incrimination.

EFF also shared experiences of their work in the Apple v. FBI case that concerned a judgement requiring Apple to engineer a ‘backdoor’ into its iPhone software operating system. This would create a security flaw leaving iPhone users vulnerable to hack. In this case, EFF filed an amicus brief to the court arguing that Government demands were violating Apple’s First Amendment rights. An interesting discussion point came from reflections that, when it comes to challenging anti-encryption measures, sometimes maintaining the status quo can be considered a win. Under this theory, the longer that anti-encryption measures can be held back, the more encryption will become the ‘norm’.

We also heard how US and European organisations have collaborated in the past, commonly through interventions by US organisations in European cases. EFF and the ACLU called for more European organisations to reach out about anti-encryption cases, so that cross-Atlantic collaboration can continue to grow in the future. Other topics touched upon during the conversation were attempts from the police in the UK to gain access to the phones of sexual abuse victims and ongoing work in Russia, where the Government are trying to force Telegram to provide access to users’ keys

At the end of the session, participants shared lessons learnt and made plans for follow-up and collaboration. This further built on some of the work done during the preceding transatlantic call, where participants focused on ‘heat mapping thematic areas for transnational collaboration’. This demonstrated an interest in exploring joint work on, amongst others, the privacy shield, facial recognition and the datafication of migrant and refugees’ data.

What we continue to appreciate from this transatlantic call series, is how the participant-led discussions during each call build the foundation for the next. We look forward to seeing this process continue and are exploring ways in which we can organise an in-person meeting to do more in depth work on issues of mutual interest.

Our next and penultimate call in the series will take place on Tuesday 15 October, focusing on ‘machine learning and human rights’.  If you have not yet registered to join this call and you would like to, please let us know, so we can add you to the list!

Unlocking the strategic litigation opportunities of the GDPR

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 27th September 2019

In May 2019, Access Now and noyb hosted a three-day meeting in Vienna to share knowledge and experiences on GDPR enforcement. The event covered several practical elements to take into account when litigating under the GDPR and considered the different avenues for taking GDPR complaints.

This week, DFF hosted a follow-up meeting in Berlin, which offered both an opportunity to look at the issue of GDPR litigation at field level and identify concrete options for GDPR enforcement. 21 participants from across Europe, including litigators, academics and activists, discussed issues ranging from how to address the functioning of DPAs, to using the GDPR to address the use of biometric data by private companies.

Following a mapping of current efforts of GDPR enforcement, the meeting took a critical look at a nascent framework prepared by DFF to prioritise litigation goals under the GDPR. Then, participants mapped priority litigation goals across a range of issues such as misuse of data by political parties, unlawful data processing by public services, and challenging “big tech” business models.

On the second day, participants formulated concrete case ideas distilled from the priority litigation goals and shared experiences of lessons learned in their GDPR work so far. A number of potential areas for follow-up were identified, which DFF is looking forward to supporting.

The meeting was energetically facilitated by Aspiration and hosted by the fantastic team at WE’RE ALL IN. Over the coming days, we will be publishing a number of guest posts to further highlight some of the conversations, so stay tuned for further updates.

If you are working on GDPR-related issues, have ideas for next steps or generally want to get involved, please get in touch!