Bread&Net: Let’s Keep AI on Our Agenda

ICNL Workshop on AI National Strategies and Civil Society in the Middle East and North Africa

Published: January 2022

Bread&Net is an annual unconference that promotes and defends digital rights across Arabic-speaking countries. Hosted by SMEX, the event serves as a platform for and sustained by hundreds of activists, technologists, journalists, researchers, lawyers, academics, entrepreneurs, and human rights defenders from around the world, with a particular focus on digital rights and digital freedoms in Arabic-speaking countries.

During the 2021 Bread&Net, ICNL held a workshop on the importance of civil society involvement in the development of national strategies on artificial intelligence (AI). The use of AI is spreading rapidly around the region, and there are numerous examples of it being used to undermine online freedoms. Qatar and Kuwait, use the AI-based “Netsweeper” application to scan and block LGBTQIA content. Earlier this year, when Palestinian activists took to the social media platforms, AI systems deleted images of protests, temporarily locked hundreds of accounts, and blocked videos and key hashtags.

It is crucial for civil society to engage in the development of national AI strategies, policies, and regulations to prevent AI from being used to undermine online freedoms and human rights. Many countries, including several in the MENA region, have developed or are in the process of developing national strategies on AI. These strategies often provide a roadmap for the regulation of algorithm-driven processes and how AI impacts lives. However, relatively few national strategies adequately address human rights impacts or include meaningful consultation with civil society.

During our interactive workshop, we highlighted several examples of how civil society has engaged in the development of these national strategies in other countries, examined the recent process of drafting a national AI strategy in Jordan, and identified a roadmap for future civil society engagement on national AI strategies in the MENA region. Read the full workshop report here.