Meaningful Information and the Right to Explanation

International Data Privacy Law, vol. 7(4), 233-242 (2017)

20 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2017 Last revised: 20 Dec 2017

See all articles by Andrew D. Selbst

Andrew D. Selbst

Data & Society Research Institute; Yale Information Society Project

Julia Powles

UWA Law School

Date Written: November 27, 2017


There is no single, neat statutory provision labeled the “right to explanation” in Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But nor is such a right illusory.

Responding to two prominent papers that, in turn, conjure and critique the right to explanation in the context of automated decision-making, we advocate a return to the text of the GDPR.

Articles 13-15 provide rights to “meaningful information about the logic involved” in automated decisions. This is a right to explanation, whether one uses the phrase or not.

The right to explanation should be interpreted functionally, flexibly, and should, at a minimum, enable a data subject to exercise his or her rights under the GDPR and human rights law.

Keywords: GDPR, explanations, right to explanation, algorithms, machine learning, law and technology, law, EU law

Suggested Citation

Selbst, Andrew D. and Powles, Julia, Meaningful Information and the Right to Explanation (November 27, 2017). International Data Privacy Law, vol. 7(4), 233-242 (2017). Available at SSRN:

Andrew D. Selbst (Contact Author)

Data & Society Research Institute ( email )

36 West 20th Street
11th Floor
New York,, NY 10011
United States

Yale Information Society Project ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Julia Powles

UWA Law School ( email )

35 Stirling Highway
Crawley, Western Australia 6009

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