EU prepares to push back on private sector carve-out from international AI treaty

This article was written by Luca Bertuzzi and published on Euractiv.

The European Commission is preparing to push back on a US-led attempt to exempt the private sector from the world’s first international treaty on Artificial Intelligence while pushing for as much alignment as possible with the EU’s AI Act.

The Council of Europe, an international human rights body with 46 member countries, set up the Committee on Artificial Intelligence at the beginning of 2022 to develop the Framework Convention on Artificial Intelligence, Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.

The binding international treaty, the first of its kind on AI, is facing crunch time: the current plan is to finalise it by March, with the view of adopting it at the ministerial level in May. Thus, many open questions must be solved at a plenary meeting on 23-26 January.

The most consequential pending issue regards the scope of the convention. In June, Euractiv revealed how the United States, which is participating as an observer country, was pushing for exempting companies by default, leaving it up to the signatory countries to decide whether to ‘opt-in’ the private sector.

Private sector exclusion

This possibility is still on the table, as confirmed by a draft of the treaty the Council of Europe published on 18 December. Participating countries will have to decide on the different options by consensus, with some decisions already expected at an informal meeting next week.

“The Union should not agree with the alternative proposal(s) that limit the scope of the convention to activities within the lifecycle of artificial intelligence systems by or on behalf of a Party or allow application to the private sector only via an additional protocol or voluntary declarations by the Parties (opt-in),” reads an information note from the Commission, obtained by Euractiv.

The document notes that these proposals would limit the treaty’s scope by default, “thus diminishing its value and sending a wrong political message that human rights in the private field do not merit the same protection.”

The EU executive notes how this approach would contradict international law that requires the respect of human rights by private entities, and it would also fail to address the recent societal challenges and regulatory concerns raised by the development of ever-more-powerful AI systems.

As a result, the Commission wants to oppose any formulation that would not provide necessary legal certainty and leave too much discretion to the signatories on the scope, as the intent of the treaty is precisely that of setting up a human rights baseline concerning AI.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Foundation 

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