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Publication date:14 December 2020

Getting the future right – Artificial intelligence and fundamental rights

Artificial intelligence (AI) already plays a role in deciding what unemployment benefits someone gets, where a burglary is likely to take place, whether someone is at risk of cancer, or who sees that catchy advertisement for low mortgage rates. Its use keeps growing, presenting seemingly endless possibilities. But we need to make sure to fully uphold fundamental rights standards when using AI. This report presents concrete examples of how companies and public administrations in the EU are using, or trying to use, AI. It focuses on four core areas – social benefits, predictive policing, health services and targeted advertising.


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 continued into 2019 and 2020 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. The report Getting the future right - Artificial intelligence and fundamental rights was published in December 2020.

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.