Press Release

Access Now and Amnesty International launch Toronto Declaration on human rights and artificial intelligence

Toronto, Canada (May 16, 2018) — Today, at 12:00 Eastern Time, global human rights organisations Amnesty International and Access Now launched a declaration on human rights and artificial intelligence at the opening of RightsCon 2018.

The Declaration, called The Toronto Declaration on protecting the rights to equality and non-discrimination in machine learning systems, addresses the risk of human rights harms associated with this technology, particularly regarding the right to equality and non-discrimination. The Declaration is a statement from the human rights community on the urgent need to address discrimination resulting from the use of machine learning systems.

The drafting of the Declaration was led by Amnesty International and Access Now, with input from a drafting committee comprising human rights activists and academics, culminating in a full-day event on 15 May live-drafting the Declaration at a meeting of over 30 experts from civil society, the public sector, and academia. Upon launch, the Declaration is endorsed by Human Rights Watch and the Wikimedia Foundation. The Declaration drafters hope that in course it will be widely adopted by civil society, the private sector, and states.

“We urge the public and private sectors to promote and respect human rights in the digital age, including the right to non-discrimination, in reaction to growing evidence of the discriminatory harms by machine learning systems,” said Estelle Massé, Senior Policy Analyst at Access Now.

“The Toronto Declaration is unique in setting set out tangible and actionable standards for states and the private sectors to uphold the principles of equality and non-discrimination, under binding human rights laws,” added Anna Bacciarelli, Technology and Human Rights Advisor at Amnesty International.

“Wikimedia Foundation is happy to endorse the Toronto Declaration with a view to protecting not only equality but freedom of expression and access to knowledge,” said Jan Gerlach, Public Policy Manager at Wikimedia Foundation.

“This declaration — that universal, international human rights law applies also to AI — is critically needed as the debate on ethics and bias in machine learning proceeds. Companies and regulators, must take note,” said Dinah PoKempner, General Counsel at Human Rights Watch.

The purpose of the Declaration

The Toronto Declaration sets out tangible means of upholding equality and non-discrimination and clarifies the obligations of states and responsibilities of companies to protect human rights in the development and use of machine learning; it further emphasizes the importance of accountability for human rights harms and the important of access to effective remedy to those who suffer human rights harms in the context of machine learning systems.

The Declaration is unique in the debate on AI ethics: based on binding international human rights law, it provides an established and widely accepted global ethics framework that is legally binding. It reaffirms the application of international human rights law and standards to new technologies such as machine learning systems.

The Declaration focuses particularly on the right to equality and non-discrimination, a critical human right underpinning all others. This is an urgent call in reaction to growing evidence of the risk of discriminatory harms associated with the use of machine learning systems in public and private use across many sectors, including policing, criminal justice, immigration and asylum — to name a few.

The Declaration clearly states that as machine learning systems grow in use and capability, it is the role of states and the private sector to hold accountability where equality and other human rights harms arise.

The Toronto Declaration is the first output from a bigger project from Amnesty International and Access Now on protecting human rights in new technology systems, enabling those in the development and use of technology understand their human rights obligations while empowering crucially affected groups and individuals to exercise their right.

The preamble to the Declaration outlining the scope of the project is available here:

The Declaration in full can be found here:

Signing and adopting the Declaration

For more information and to register interest in adopting the Declaration, please contact:

Anna Bacciarelli, Amnesty International: [email protected]

Estelle Massé, Access Now: [email protected]

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