Teresa Scassa - Blog

Wednesday, 06 December 2023 07:16

High-Impact AI Under AIDA's Proposed Amendments (Part II of a Series)

Written by  Teresa Scassa
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My previous post looked at some of the new definitions in the proposed amendments to the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) which is Part III of Bill C-27. These include a definition of “high impact” AI, and a schedule of classes of high-impact AI (the Schedule is reproduced at the end of this post). The addition of the schedule changes AIDA considerably, and that is the focus of this post.

The first two classes in the Schedule capture contexts that can clearly affect individuals. Class 1 addresses AI used in most aspects of employment, and Class 2 relates to the provision of services. On the provision of services (which could include things like banking and insurance), the wording signals that it will apply to decision-making about the provision of services, their cost, or the prioritization of recipients. To be clear, AIDA does not prohibit systems with these functions. They are simply characterized as “high impact” so that they will be subject to governance obligations. A system to determine creditworthiness can still reject individuals; and companies can still prioritize preferred customers – as long as the systems are sufficiently transparent, free from bias and do not cause harm.

There is, however, one area which seems to fall through the cracks of Classes 1 & 2: rental accommodation. A lease is an interest in land – it is not a service. Human rights legislation in Canada typically refers to accommodation separately from services for this reason. AI applications are already being used to screen and select tenants for rental accommodation. In the midst of a housing crisis, this is surely an area that is high-impact and where the risks of harm from flawed AI to individuals and families searching for a place to live are significant. This gap needs to be addressed – perhaps simply by adding “or accommodation” after each use of the term “service” in Class 2.

Class 3 rightly identifies biometric systems as high risk. It also includes systems that use biometrics in “the assessment of an individual’s behaviour or state of mind.” Key to the scope of this section will be the definition of “biometric”. Some consider biometric data to be exclusively physiological data (fingerprints, iris scans, measurements of facial features, etc.). Yet others include behavioral data in this class if it is used for the second identified purpose – the assessment of behaviour or state of mind. Behavioural data, though, is potentially a very broad category. It can include data about a person’s gait, or their speech or keystroke patterns. Cast even more broadly, it could include things such as “geo-location and IP addresses”, “purchasing habits”, “patterns of device use” or even “browser history and cookies”. If that is the intention behind Class 3, then conventional biometric AI should be Part One of this class; Part Two should be the use of an AI system to assess an individual’s behaviour or state of mind (without referring specifically to biometrics in order to avoid confusion). This would also, importantly, capture the highly controversial area of AI for affect recognition. It would be unfortunate if the framing of the class as ‘biometrics’ led to an unduly narrow interpretation of the kind of systems or data involved. The explanatory note in the Minister’s cover letter for this provision seems to suggest (although it is not clear) that it is purely physiological biometric data that is intended for inclusion and not a broader category. If this is so, then Class 3 seems unduly narrow.

Class 4 is likely to be controversial. It addresses content moderation and the prioritization and presentation of content online and identifies these as high-impact algorithmic activities. Such systems are in widespread use in the online context. The explanatory note from the Minister observes that such systems “have important potential impacts on Canadians’ ability to express themselves, as well as pervasive effects at societal scale” (at p. 4). This is certainly true although the impact is less direct and obvious than the impact of a hiring algorithm, for example. Further, although an algorithm that presents a viewer of online streaming services with suggestions for content could have the effect of channeling a viewer’s attention in certain directions, it is hard to see this as “high impact” in many contexts, especially since there are multiple sources of suggestions for online viewing (including word of mouth). That does not mean that feedback loops and filter bubbles (especially in social media) do not contribute to significant social harms – but it does make this high impact class feel large and unwieldy. The Minister’s cover letter indicates that each of the high-impact classes presents “distinct risk profiles and consequently will require distinct risk management strategies.” (at p. 2). Further, he notes that the obligations that will be imposed “are intended to scale in proportion to the risks they present. A low risk use within a class would require correspondingly minimal mitigation effort.” (at p. 2). Much will clearly depend on regulations.

Class 5 relates to the use of AI in health care or emergency services, although it explicitly excludes medical devices because these are already addressed by Health Canada (which recently consulted on the regulation of AI-enabled medical devices). This category also demonstrates some of the complexity of regulating AI in Canada’s federal system. Many hospital-based AI technologies are being developed by researchers affiliated with the hospitals and who are not engaged in the interprovincial or international trade and commerce which is necessary for AIDA to apply. AIDA will only apply to those systems developed externally and in the context of international or interprovincial trade and commerce. While this will still capture many applications, it will not capture all – creating different levels of governance within the same health care context.

It is also not clear what is meant, in Class 5, by “use of AI in matters relating to health care”. This could be interpreted to mean health care that is provided within what is understood as the health care system. Understood more broadly, it could extend to health-related apps – for example, one of the many available AI-enabled sleep trackers, or an AI-enabled weight loss tool (to give just two examples). I suspect that what is intended is the former, even though, with health care in crisis and more people turning to alternate means to address their health issues, health-related AI technologies might well deserve to be categorized as high-impact.

Class 6 involves the use of an AI system by a court or administrative body “in making a determination in respect of an individual who is a party to proceedings before the court or administrative body.” In the first place, this is clearly not meant to apply to automated decision-making generally – it seems to be limited to judicial or quasi-judicial contexts. Class 6 must also be reconciled with s. 3 of AIDA, which provides that AIDA does not apply “with respect to a government institution as defined in s. 3 of the Privacy Act.” This includes the Immigration and Refugee Board, for example, as well as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Parole Board, and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Making sense of this, then, it would be the tools used by courts or tribunals and developed or deployed in the course of interprovincial or international trade and commerce that would be considered high impact. The example given in the Minister’s letter seems to support this – it is of an AI system that provides an assessment of “risk of recidivism based on historical data” (at p. 5).

However, Class 6 is confusing because it identifies the context rather than the tools as high impact. Note that the previous classes address the use of AI “in matters relating to” the subject matter of the class, whereas class 6 identifies actors – the use of AI by a court or tribunal. There is a different focus. Yet the same tools used by courts and tribunals might also be used by administrative bodies or agencies that do not hold hearings or that are otherwise excluded from the application of AIDA. For example, in Ewert v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada considered an appeal by a Métis man who challenged the use of recidivism-risk assessment tools by Correctional Services of Canada (to which AIDA would not apply according to s. 3). If this type of tool is high-risk, it is so whether it is used by Correctional Services or a court. This suggests that the framing of Class 6 needs some work. It should perhaps be reworded to identify tools or systems as high impact if they are used to determine the rights, entitlements or status of individuals.

Class 7 addresses the use of an AI system to assist a peace officer “in the exercise and performance of their law enforcement powers, duties and function”. Although “peace officer” receives the very broad interpretation found in the Criminal Code, that definition is modified in the AIDA by language that refers to the exercise of specific law enforcement powers. This should still capture the use of a broad range of AI-enabled tools and technologies. It is an interesting question whether AIDA might apply more fulsomely to this class of AI systems (not just those developed in the course of interprovincial or international trade) as it might be considered to be rooted in the federal criminal law power.

These, then, are the different classes that are proposed initially to populate the Schedule if AIDA and its amendments are passed. The list is likely to spark debate, and there is certainly some wording that could be improved. And, while it provides much greater clarity as to what is proposed to be regulated, it is also evident that the extent to which obligations will apply will likely be further tailored in regulations to create sliding scales of obligation depending on the degree of risk posed by any given system.

AIDA Schedule:

High-Impact Systems — Uses

1. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to determinations in respect of employment, including recruitment, referral, hiring, remuneration, promotion, training, apprenticeship, transfer or termination.

2. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to

(a) the determination of whether to provide services to an individual;

(b) the determination of the type or cost of services to be provided to an individual; or

(c) the prioritization of the services to be provided to individuals.

3. The use of an artificial intelligence system to process biometric information in matters relating to

(a) the identification of an individual, other than in cases in which the biometric information is processed with the individual’s consent to authenticate their identity; or

(b) the assessment of an individual’s behaviour or state of mind.

4. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to

(a) the moderation of content that is found on an online communications platform, including a search engine or social media service; or

(b) the prioritization of the presentation of such content.

5. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to health care or emergency services, excluding a use referred to in any of paragraphs (a) to (e) of the definition device in section 2 of the Food and Drugs Act that is in relation to humans.

6. The use of an artificial intelligence system by a court or administrative body in making a determination in respect of an individual who is a party to proceedings before the court or administrative body.

7. The use of an artificial intelligence system to assist a peace officer, as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code, in the exercise and performance of their law enforcement powers, duties and functions.

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