Artificial Intelligence and the Right to Privacy

Artificial Intelligence and the Right to Privacy

The term, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was first introduced to the world by Prof. John McCarthy at a conference held at Dartmouth in the year 1956. He defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines”. In the 6 decades since then, the use and impact of artificial intelligence has undergone major changes and today, AI is a ubiquitous phenomenon that has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Working in close tandem with Big Data and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) AI today is one of the driving factors for the exponential growth in several sectors of the global economy. However, while AI has done wonders for time management and data processing, there has been an increasing  expression of concern over the privacy of individuals who interact with AI on a daily basis.

Complex data mining techniques are employed to extract and analyse usable data from large volumes of raw data. This allows the tech giants to gather, process and store personal data of individuals and is in turn used to interpret user behaviour through data analytics. Such collection and processing of data makes it possible for profiling of individuals. Unless steps are taken like  the pseudonimization and anonymization of user data to remove online identifiers, it is possible to build a “personality” using the data available on the internet. In the same vein, it is also made possible to extrapolate sensitive personal information regarding users’ healthcare, sexual orientation, ethnic origins, etc. It is noteworthy that legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation enacted by the European Union provides for data to be stored in such encrypted versions. However, as we experience from target advertising and push notifications from our mobile apps, not enough is being done to erase an individual’s footprints on the internet. Technology companies are also experiencing backlash on the use of AI resulting in infringement of the right to privacy. Business models of technology giants are bolstered by AI- fuelled algorithms of machine learning and deep learning which are executed to gather big data. The data comprising personal information is processed and can be used in various ways which can violate privacy interests of the individuals some of the common examples include targeted ads. Absence of notice-consent models further exacerbates the issues of violation of privacy and it is due time that such online platforms and companies earning profits by use of intrusive applications of AI be considered as online fiduciary platforms heeding to the privacy interests of customers.

AI and data processing also create fear about surveillance and creation of an Orwelian State. India’s long drawn courtroom battle with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the AADHAR card is a prime example. The Aadhar Card is issued after collecting bio metrics such as retinal scan and fingerprints of the individuals, along with personal details such as contact number and residential address. It was proposed to link this Aadhar card with the holder’s bank account, and their PAN card details. PAN stands for  Permanent Account Number and is a unique number assigned to each assessee under the Income Tax Act. Aadhar in turn was also being used in healthcare, telephone and internet connections, and educational institutions. One can only imagine the multitude of information made available to any interested person/authority at a single click if such interlinked data collection was made mandatory for all.

Thus, we see that tech companies and governments have much to gain in the rise of AI and yet, they also have an ethical responsibility to address privacy concerns of the individuals whose data they seek to collect, store, and process. The Right to Privacy includes information privacy and forms part of the larger Right to Life guaranteed to  every individual by the State. Such a right is found not only in domestic legislations but also international conventions and is an accepted principle in a democracy. With India’s Personal Data Protection Bill tabled for Parliamentary assent, and the popularity gained by this discussion regarding AI and privacy  at a global level it will be interesting to see how the stakeholders and the government rise to the occasion.

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