Liliane Maury Pasquier: ‘The digitisation of our societies goes to the very heart of democratic functioning'

“Increasing digitisation and certain aspects of artificial intelligence go to the very heart of democratic functioning, the rule of law and human rights in our societies,” said Liliane Maury Pasquier, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), underlining the dangers for certain groups of people and the importance of having a uniform legal framework.

Speaking at the opening of a ministerial conference in Strasbourg on the topic “The digital challenges to justice in Europe”, President Maury Pasquier said the digitisation of our societies posed considerable ethical, societal and legal challenges in terms of both access to the law and criminal justice. Referring to the risk of discrimination in the use of artificial intelligence, she stressed the danger of reproducing human prejudices in the data that fed algorithms, for example on a person’s gender, race or ethnic or religious affiliation, “giving them quasi-scientific authority”. It is significant that “the field of artificial intelligence remains a predominantly male sector,” she added: less than a quarter of the people working in this field are women.

Among the risks, the President also mentioned the case of “predictive” justice and artificial intelligence systems designed for crime prevention purposes, as well as the increasing use of algorithms to assess the risk of escape or the probability of repeat offending, designed for judges making decisions on questions such as suspension of a prison sentence or parole.

Mrs Maury Pasquier concluded by recalling that the Assembly was currently preparing several reports on the effects of artificial intelligence on human rights, justice, the labour market, health or the prevention of discrimination.

A joint debate on these issues is scheduled for a plenary session of the Assembly in 2020.