Civil Society Days of the European Economic and Social Committee.

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Brussels 28 mai 2018

On 24 and 25 May 2018, the European Economic and Social Committee and civil society gather together to debate about “Citizenship, Democracy & Culture in a digitalized Europe”.

This was the opportunity to debate during 6 interactive workshops studying how citizenship, democracy and culture can develop and be promoted in a digital Europe[1]  After the Cambridge Analytica scandal[2], and the entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25 May 2018, the topic chosen was very topical!

Artificial intelligence and the protection of fundamental rights have been examined. The current key challenges concern the massive arrival of artificial intelligence in many fields, while the use of Internet today is still frightening. The principal question is: how do we want to integrate information and communication technologies into our societies while respecting fundamental rights?

Among these issues, cybersecurity and data protection were on the agenda, especially because an answer from the EU is expended to increased cyber crises and associated risks (malware, dissemination of false information, attacks on public services). The Internet was originally neutral and open to all, but today citizens’ trust in the Internet is being eroded. As Guillaume Vassault-Houlière, Chief Executive Officer of Yes We Hack told us in an interview, “As European citizens, we have a data protection policy with the GDPR, whereas we cannot have a control of what happens at the GAFAM level. They send beautiful marketing texts but it is impossible to verify their promises. They try to create trust with their users and some believe in it.”

Yes We Hack: What is it? “Created in 2013, this platform allows having a link between companies and the Community through cybersecurity. The Community is made up of ethical hackers. They have values, and put them to the benefit of common right. It is a counter-power. Yes We Hack provides an interconnection and we represent a trusted third party since we work with cyber defence institutions, governments, institutions, private companies, or NGOs.” To Mr Vassault-Houlière, “The future of the Internet is trust.”

During Mark Zuckerberg’s speech in the European Parliament, one of the MEPs reminded him that he had already made ten apologies since the creation of Facebook. From the beginning of the year, he has already apologised three times: one scandal always hides another. Facebook users (as well as those on other social networks or free services) should realize that they are selling their privacy.  Confidence is getting lost, but social media users still remain because there is no alternative.

Yes We Hack explained the economic model of a competitor of Google, the French search engine “Qwant”: “it is just an affiliation, like Google at the beginning. When advertisements appear, it is only a link without any algorithm. The user’s data are not retained and if a product highlighted by Qwant has been sold, Qwant will take a commission on the “click” but not on the sale of personal date. All statistics are processed internally. Google makes a lot of money just with our  “clicks,” but it sells your privacy for 5 to 10% more. ”

It is necessary to force companies to change their economic model, but civil society must be able to play a role. It was one of the important points raised during these days. Citizens must be informed and consulted. Civil society organisations must be more involved, but their place is increasingly limited.

Maryse Artiguelong who intervened during the workshop co-organised by AEDH on “Cybersecurity and data protection: at the service of the general interest” in order to introduce the GDPR. This intervention showed us that some points are essential to the guarantee of privacy protection on the Internet. The European Union must sign the 108 Convention which is the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. On 18th May 2018, the Committee of Ministers approved the modernisation of this Convention. Thus, all countries in the world will be able to adopt a binding legal instrument for the protection of personal data offering the same protection as the GDPR. It is also necessary that the EU move towards digital sovereignty, which is essential for combating the violation of personal data by the GAFAM.

About sovereignty, Guillaume Vassault-Houlière explained during the interview that “We are not ready in Europe for digital sovereignty. We can easily be destabilized. Only cooperation can make us stronger. That is what Americans and their Five Eyes partners do. For us, it is always complicated. Sovereignty is a big word. We talk about it a lot, but it is not moving forward and we are wasting time. When we buy in cybersecurity, Europe’s interest and data are not protected.  Yes We Hack works, but stands alone on this issue.

Today, the idea is not to move towards less technology, nor to reject artificial intelligence, but to find a way to integrate it into the world of work in the best possible way. For this to happen, major changes must take place.

In an ideal world, artificial intelligence would replace the most difficult tasks for humans, or would simply support some jobs and not replace them. Artificial intelligence should also allow more sustainability by establishing a better balance between training, work and private life. How could we combine the possibility of spending less time at work while keeping the same salary? Is that really possible? It will indeed be necessary to compensate this lost working time and to guarantee economic security. It appears that the minimum income guaranteed could be a solution and a guarantee of well-being.

As Anna Byhovskaya, OECD representative at the conference on “Artificial Intelligence as a Common Good”, said: “Informing citizens as much as possible about AI is not a solution to save jobs. We should inform but it is not enough. We must therefore anticipate and find a solution to these “new unemployed” by offering training.” Indeed, in this new digital society, it will be necessary to redefine the educational system, by accentuating it more on the use of new technologies, the use of computers and the development of creativity. It will also be necessary to redefine the notion of work by studying the complementarity between artificial intelligence and humans.

Human beings still have irreplaceable abilities. Really? Are we sure that human emotions will not be recreated in the future?  We have to decide whether we want to have machines everywhere: in schools, courts, our hospitals. Indeed, not everyone is able to create an algorithm, so citizens will become dependent on a system which will impose upon them. Personal data are not necessarily neutral. Consequently, if an algorithm is fuelled with personal data, they must be of excellent quality.

Civil society and not only the digital players must be involved in the transversal project on artificial intelligence. In fact, this project concerns many fields, especially fundamental rights. Currently, a European alliance of artificial intelligence is being set up by the European Commission with the participation of more than thirty experts from civil society.

At the end of these days, the following six recommendations were voted[3]:

  • Build synergies between education and culture on the topics of cultural expression and citizenship in all educational settings and in a LLL perspective
  • CSOs should be supported to have greater outreach to promote & demonstrate equality, inclusivity & participation in civic life, including online
  • Control and oversight of surveillance shall be enhanced and civil society should be involved in the oversight mechanisms of surveillance.
  • At a local level, co-creation/crowdsourcing e-tools should be more often used to increase citizens engagement
  • Accessibility should walk the same path as security or data protection. It should be a core aspect of ICT products and services.
  • A.I. can and should augment workers and not replace them
  • Support and promote a Charter of digital fundamental rights of the EU