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The Catalan Ombudsman participates in the European Congress of the International Ombudsman Institute with a paper on AI

30/05/2022

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The Congress was organised by the European President and Greek Ombudsman Andreas Pottakis and his team, and the General Assembly meeting of all European members was also held

The potential impact of artificial intelligence on citizens' rights directly challenges ombudsman institutions

Current legislation is a good starting point, but new aspects need to be regulated

The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, has travelled to Sounion, Greece, to take part in the General Assembly and the European Conference of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), where he gave a speech on the use of new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI).

From the Catalan Ombudsman's point of view, AI applications offer a perspective of improvement in the analysis of data that support decision-making, and also make it easier to personalise and adapt the services provided by administrations to the needs and singularities of each user or, in general, to improve their functioning. This justifies the fact that public authorities are promoting the application of AI mechanisms. However, their potential impact on citizens' rights directly challenges the ombudsman institutions in their role as guarantors of these rights vis-à-vis the administrations. 

At this point, Rafael Ribó wanted to talk about the main risks associated with AI for the rights of individuals, among which he highlighted opacity, discrimination and the possible violation of the right to privacy and the protection of personal data. In view of this, it is worth considering that the protection offered by the general legal framework seems insufficient to deal with the specific risks that AI technologies can generate. In this sense, although European legislation on the protection of personal data is a good point of reference and the protection parameters and mechanisms it provides can also be useful for protecting other rights of individuals who may be affected by the application of AI technologies, there are some aspects that need to be regulated as a matter of priority, such as risk prevention and management, transparency and intelligibility, accountability, data minimisation, fairness of access and the desirability of creating a control and supervision mechanism.

With regard to gender equality, Rafael Ribó stated the need for artificial intelligence systems to be used as a tool to reduce inequalities between men and women.

Finally, the Catalan Ombudsman stressed that the IA requires administrations to make an additional technological effort to guarantee the protection of consumers and obliges them to strengthen collaboration with consumer associations. It also obliges them to increase information to consumers on the risks or irregularities that exist in the contracting of goods and services and to establish flexible and affordable means of alternative dispute resolution between businesses and consumers.

The General Assembly and Congress, which are held every four years in a different region, alternating with the world congresses, were the first to be organised by the Greek Ombudsman and European President of the IOI, Andreas Pottakis. With representatives from 47 ombudsman institutions, and in a hybrid format (face-to-face and online), its sessions dealt with human rights in ombudsman's offices, the use of technology and how to approach people, in particular those most vulnerable and specially identified groups.

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