Pandemic-Sanctioned AI Surveillance: Human Rights under the Threat of Algorithmic Injustice in the EU

15 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2021

See all articles by Antonella Zarra

Antonella Zarra

University of Hamburg, Institute of Law and Economics; Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Students; Bologna University, Department of Economics

Silvia Favalli

University of Pavia, Students

Matilde Ceron

University of Milan - Department of Social and Political Studies

Date Written: October 10, 2021

Abstract

Attention to algorithmic injustice has long characterised the perspective of European Union (EU) institutions toward artificial intelligence (AI), given the potential threats to citizens and democracies. From a global perspective, the EU has likewise championed in the pandemic context thanks to higher attention to concerns such as privacy in the deployment of technological solutions to help control the outbreak. Nevertheless, as digital tools became more and more pervasive, their proliferation far exceeded official contact tracing apps to include a multitude of public and private surveillance solutions. Our work considers the current European regulatory framework and it highlights how problematic pandemic surveillance digital tools in terms of privacy and data protection, digital accessibility, non-discrimination and social exclusion may fall through the cracks, especially within the private sector. The legal analysis complemented by empirical examples of COVID-19 related apps assesses how the pandemic offers a breeding ground for algorithmic injustice. Similarly, we evaluate the extent to which, in its current form, the European Commission Proposal for an AI Regulation (the AI Act) may fail to fully mitigate in practice such threats to human rights. Specifically, the contribution of the paper is to highlight how - even in a context such as the EU where notable attention is given to citizens' rights and their balancing against the need of protecting public health - COVID-19 and its algorithmic response poses a substantial risk to human rights. More broadly, the analysis offers a cautionary tale for post-pandemic societies in which AI surveillance is bound to remain a ubiquitous feature, for which current regulatory efforts may not prove sufficient guarantees.

Keywords: algorithmic surveillance, contact tracing, COVID-19,; EU law, human rights, AI Act, artificial intelligence

Suggested Citation

Zarra, Antonella and Favalli, Silvia and Ceron, Matilde, Pandemic-Sanctioned AI Surveillance: Human Rights under the Threat of Algorithmic Injustice in the EU (October 10, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3939747 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3939747

Antonella Zarra (Contact Author)

University of Hamburg, Institute of Law and Economics ( email )

Hamburg
Germany

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Students ( email )

Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
PO Box 1738
Rotterdam
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.eur.nl/en/esl/research/areas/institutes/law-and-economics/staff

Bologna University, Department of Economics ( email )

Bologna
Italy

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.unibo.it/sitoweb/antonella.zarra2/en

Silvia Favalli

University of Pavia, Students ( email )

Pavia
Italy

Matilde Ceron

University of Milan - Department of Social and Political Studies ( email )

Via Conservatorio 7
Milan, 20122
Italy

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