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Publication date:30 May 2018

#BigData: Discrimination in data-supported decision making

We live in a world of big data, where technological developments in the area of machine learning and artificial intelligence have changed the way we live. Decisions and processes concerning everyday life are increasingly automated, based on data. This affects fundamental rights in various ways. This focus paper specifically deals with discrimination, a fundamental rights area particularly affected by technological developments.


This project assesses the positive and negative impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data when used in public administrations and business. The project identifies concrete examples of fundamental rights challenges arising from the use of algorithms for decision-making (i.e. machine learning and AI). It aims to establish fundamental rights guidelines and recommendations for using AI and big data in public administrations and business.


Rapid advances in new technologies has demonstrated the need to identify and raise awareness about emerging fundamental rights challenges. Such challenges include infringements of privacy, data protection and equality, stemming from the growing use of big data and algorithms.

Public administrations and businesses using technologies or engaging in digitally innovative projects need concrete solutions to ensure fundamental rights compliance. They also need clear guidelines and recommendations for processing and using data. To that end, various developments by EU institutions and the Council of Europe are already underway to safeguard fundamental rights as technology advances.

Among these developments are the European Parliament’s resolutions on AI and robotics, and on big data. Additionally, the European Commission has published a communication on AI for Europe and created a high-level expert group on AI. The group has published ethics guidelines and policy and investments recommendations. The Council of Europe is also working on AI and human rights in relation to possible standard setting instruments concerning AI in new digital technologies and services. As an active participant in these developments, FRA aims to bring fundamental rights more strongly into the development of new technologies and provide data for implementing and developing policies.


FRA’s work in the area of AI and big data began in 2017. In February 2018, it held an expert meeting including participants from academia, business, NGOs, policy makers and other relevant actors. This was followed by the publication of a focus paper on the discriminatory potential of algorithms in May 2018.

Work has continued into 2019 with FRA participating in several conferences related to the development of AI policies to ensure the inclusion of fundamental rights in all discussions and processes. A second focus paper was published in June 2019 on data quality in artificial intelligence. A third focus paper on facial recognition technology was published in November 2019.

All of these activities form part of a greater overall project on the impact of AI on fundamental rights in the EU, running from 2019-2021. The project assesses the positive and negative fundamental rights implications of new technologies in Estonia, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Spain across various policy areas such as public administration, healthcare, law enforcement, and retailing.

Qualitative interviews and case studies are being carried out in selected EU Member States with representatives of businesses and local authorities. The project will also measure the practices and awareness of fundamental rights issues among public administrations and businesses when AI and big data are used.

FRA will also assess the feasibility of carrying out online experiments and simulation case studies using modern data analysis tools and techniques.

The results of the project will contribute to setting out fundamental rights guidelines and recommendations and will also help to address the lack of case studies available on AI and big data in Europe.

The first main results will be published in 2020.