NGOs were barred from creating the first international treaty on artificial intelligence at the request of the United States. This is to prevent countries from changing their positions publicly.
The Council of Europe’s Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CoE) is tasked with developing a treaty on artificial intelligence, focusing on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Strasbourg-based body is an international body of 46 members including the EU27, the UK, Turkey and Ukraine – Russia recently excluded.
The United States, Canada, Mexico and Israel are observer countries that are not physically bound but may choose to sign certain treaties, such as on artificial intelligence.
At the committee’s last plenary session in November, the United States proposed handing over the work to a drafting group that would include all countries that could sign the treaty, essentially complete without civil society groups.
The US representative pointed out that he did not want to publicly disclose his negotiating positions to representatives of other countries and cited the Second Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime as a precedent.
A point that Washington May not wish to make publicIt has pushed to limit the scope of the AI treaty to public companies and exclude the private sector, where US companies are world leaders.
Following the US proposal, the UK and Canada have expressed support for the drafting committee. However, since the motion was not formally adopted unanimously during the plenary session, as usual, the delegates assumed that it was one of the many motions raised during the debate.
However, the Council of Europe Secretariat recorded the American proposal in the minutes as having been decided. According to informed sources who spoke to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity, the Secretariat was pressured by the US because the company has a diplomatic interest in having the US sign its agreement.
The United States Mission to the European Union declined EURACTIV’s request for comment.
This attempt to make a decision without proper discussion did not go unnoticed. Several NGOs such as AlgorithmWatch, Fair Trials, Homo Digitalis and the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organizations (CINGO) rallied against the exclusion from the drafting process.
“This decision is contrary to the best practices of the Council of Europe, the Convention 108+ draft is in force. and the Council of Europe’s own standards on the role of civil society in political decision-making processesAn email seen by EURACTIV said these companies sent to participating countries.
A number of countries, including Turkey, Poland, Slovenia, Austria and Japan, spoke at the plenary session on Tuesday 10 January and called for the participation of NGOs.
As a result, EU member states met behind closed doors with the European Commission on Wednesday, but remained divided. At that time, the Commission requested an adjournment until a common position was reached.
The move was seen as an attempt to further delay the debate. As EURACTIV reported in October, the EU mandate actually corresponds to the upcoming AI law. Therefore, the Commission is keen to postpone negotiations until the co-legislators reach an agreement on AI regulation.
The next day’s plenary session decided that only potential contracting parties to the Convention would be admitted to the drafting group, with the exception of Council of Europe bodies with participating status.
Going forward, the drafting process and initial discussions will take place behind closed doors to avoid revealing specific positions of countries. The text is then sent to NGOs, who then have the opportunity to comment in writing or orally at the next plenary session.
However, civil society organizations fear that their contribution could easily be ignored at this stage. These fears are fueled by the fact that these contributions are discussed behind closed doors before moving on to the next chapter.
Another problem is the lack of transparency as it is not specified which country is proposing which change. In addition, NGOs cannot see the final draft before the Council of Europe sends it to the Plenary and the Council of Ministers.
The drafting group began its work with the conclusion chapter, the most interesting part of the text, but less controversial than the others, in which participating countries disagree on whether to exclude AI systems developed for national security and on access to legal remedies.
[Bearbeitet von Alice Taylor]
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