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Rights and principles proposed to guide digital transformation

Businesses have been urged to refer to a proposed new set of EU digital rights and principles when developing and deploying new technology.

The draft declaration on digital rights and principles, developed by the European Commission, is designed to shape EU policy- and law-making and the way the EU engages with international partners, but the Commission said it can also be a tool for guiding businesses’ digital transformation projects. The draft is part of a wider policy program called the ‘Path to the Digital Decade’, which sets EU-wide digitisation targets for 2030.

Businesses that embrace the declaration would be expected to put people at the centre of digital transformation projects and commit to a series of other principles under headings such as solidarity and inclusion; freedom of choice; participation in the digital public space; safety, security and empowerment; and sustainability.

Some of the draft digital rights and principles are rooted in EU law or fundamental rights, but the Commission conceded that others are not “directly enforceable”.

The draft declaration addresses the topic of interactions with algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Signatories commit to “ensuring transparency about the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence, and that people are empowered and informed when interacting with them” and to ensuring “suitable datasets” are used with algorithmic systems “to avoid unlawful discrimination”. The draft declaration also endorses human supervision of the “outcomes affecting people” stemming from the use of algorithmic systems.

In addition, signatories must ensure technology is “not used to pre-determine people’s choices, for example regarding health, education, employment, and their private life”, and they must put in place “safeguards to ensure that artificial intelligence and digital systems are safe and used in full respect of people’s fundamental rights”.

The draft declaration addresses a wide range of other issues, including disinformation, illegal and harmful content, cybersecurity, fair competition, data protection and privacy. It also raised the concept of a person’s “digital legacy”, stating that individuals should be able to “decide what happens with the publicly available information that concerns them, after their death”.

The Commission wants the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, the EU’s two law-making bodies, to be co-signatories of the draft declaration. The Commission is hoping to have the draft declaration signed by summer 2022.

Sari van Grondelle, tech and cyber specialist at Pinsent Masons in Amsterdam, said: “The principles are still very abstract and open to multiple interpretations, so what they actually mean in practice will depend on how they are fleshed out in regulations and policy, as well as how companies will apply them in the development of new technologies.”

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