SPP Professor Cameran Ashraf publishes in Journal of Cyber Policy

June 15, 2020

SPP Professor Cameran Ashraf's article in Journal of Cyber Policy "Artificial Intelligence and the Rights to Assembly and Association" argues that AI will not only impact the rights to privacy and freedom of expression, but AI will also impact our rights to assembly and association online.  After all, The internet is no longer simply a space to receive and impart information, but a place where many find the solace in coming together with our fellow humans.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world in dramatic ways. It manages billions of dollars with automated financial advisors, powers self-driving cars, determines creditworthiness, assists law enforcement in deciding where and when to patrol and helps pilots fly. In the near future, AI will help doctors diagnose our ailments, grade university exams and mitigate biases in hiring practices (Raso et al. 2018).

On the internet, AI is used to moderate the content we see in our newsfeeds. In addition to independently removing content without human oversight, AI also acts as an aid to human reviewers in eliminating offensive content from online platforms. AI powers much of the internet we experience. It curates music and video playlists, provides recommendations for product purchases and scans comment sections for offensive messages.

The rising public visibility of AI has encouraged vigorous debate in academia, policy circles and in the popular press. Much of this discussion has focused on the potential impact of AI on society and how to best regulate it. As a result, Google, Microsoft and other large tech companies have embraced AI ethics panels to address privacy and security concerns (Vincent 2019). Governments around the world have launched AI initiatives seeking competitive economic advantage, with China in particular seeking to be the global leader in AI by 2030 (Webster et al. 2017). In the domain of cyberwar, states are working to ‘weaponize’ AI for strategic advantage. These more popular debates have largely focused on AI and economics, ethics and conflict.

Discussion about AI’s impact on human rights besides freedom of expression and privacy has been scarce (Raso et al. 2018). This is problematic, since internet is the de facto global commons. Every day, billions of people come together on the internet to discuss politics, daily life, illnesses, joys and sorrows. Religious groups discuss scripture and activists organise protests and air grievances. In other words, every day, we use the internet to exercise our freedom of assembly and association (FoAA), enumerated in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Assembly and association are two separate human rights commonly grouped together. Freedom of assembly refers to ‘the intentional and temporary presence of a number of individuals in a public place for a common expressive purpose’ (Belyaeva et al. 2010, 15). Freedom of association ‘enables individuals to come together and collectively to express, promote, pursue, and even defend common interests’ (Smith and Anker 2005, 18). These two rights are ‘essential both to establish a genuine democracy and to ensure that, once achieved, it remains healthy and flourishing’ (Smith and Anker 2005, 18). Indeed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association states: ‘The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are key to the realisation of democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold Governments to account and to empower human agency’ (Voule 2018, 17). The rights to assembly and association are key not only to democracy, but also to the functioning of an open and free internet where billions of individuals come together.

Given the importance of AI for social media and the broader internet (VivaTech 2018), assembly and association online will be dependent upon how AI is used. By determining or influencing what content we see or what content exists, AI can shape how and why people assemble online, allowing some groups to exercise their rights while discouraging or banning others. Indeed, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, affirms that assembly and association exist online when he states that ‘ … the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association can be exercised through new technologies, including through the Internet’ (Kiai 2012, 20).

There is a critical lack of literature on AI’s impact on human rights besides freedom of expression and privacy (Raso et al. 2018). Therefore, this paper will provide an overview of AI and the rights to assembly and association online. It will discuss AI’s impact on two key areas on the internet: content display, whereby AI determines the content we see, and content moderation, through which AI determines which content exists. Finally, it will provide preliminary policy recommendations. It is hoped that this paper will contribute to a broader human rights-centric discussion of AI and its current and future impacts.

Academic Area: