Artificial Intelligence and Equality

Digitalisation, automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) increasingly affect daily lives. With the development of these technologies comes an increasing acknowledgement of the possible drawbacks, including the inherent risk of the vast capacity of automated systems being used for discrimination. Whether in employment, healthcare, social security, access to justice, and the protection of marginalized groups, technologies such as AI can undermine equality.

Equality Bodies play a key role in ensuring the equality-compliant use of AI and other digital automation systems. Equinet, as a network of 48 Equality Bodies, has become a central stakeholder in shaping the evolving European law and policy at the intersections of AI-driven technologies, on the one hand, and equality and discrimination, on the other hand.

Building capacity and knowledge

Since 2019, Equinet has been systematically working to equip Equality Bodies with practical knowledge and tools to safeguard equality in the context of AI systems. Equinet’s 2020 report “Regulating for an Equal AI: A New Role for Equality Bodies” laid the groundwork by giving concrete guidance to Equality Bodies on how they can use existing laws to protect against AI-enabled discrimination and recommendations for their role in the implementation of future AI-specific regulation. In 2021, we held an online training how AI can challenge equality and how Equality Bodies can make critical and impactful interventions.

In 2022, our AI Legal Clinic discussed two specific litigation cases to enable Equality Bodies to assess legal cases involving potential AI discrimination, develop litigation strategies, and involve relevant stakeholders such as CSOs. We also held a training to discuss ways in which Equality Bodies can successfully identify cases of algorithmic discrimination in the context of the “black box” of automated decision-making, given that victims of discriminatory algorithms are often unaware of such discrimination. In 2023, our study visit at the French Defender of Rights focused on building the knowledge of Equality Bodies on how to use data protection law to address AI discrimination with the involvement of the French Data Protection Authority CNIL.

Currently, Equinet participates in the “Equality by design, deliberation and oversight project”, running from the beginning of 2024 until May 2025. Through this project, Equinet will contribute to the development of learning materials and online training for Equality Bodies and civil society to enhance their capacity to monitor and investigate the discriminatory impacts of AI systems and support policy reform to address legal gaps. Another parallel strand of the project will connect the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission with the UK tech industry to assess the industry’s understanding of the applicability of equality law to AI and offer online training to address existing knowledge gaps and misunderstandings about equality law.

Fostering good practices and peer exchange

Equality Bodies have a rich record of experience and specific legal powers, covering both the private and public sectors, which makes them well-placed to ensure access to justice for those affected and develop effective protection and prevention strategies. They have already started to effectively leverage their diverse powers to ensure AI systems protect and promote equality. For example, there is a growing body of cases, including insurance and banking algorithms, access to education, facial recognition technologies, a dating application, and, famously, the AI system involved in the Dutch childcare allowances scandal. Some Equality Bodies are working with tech developers to ensure systems are equality compliant, while others are partnering with civil society to enhance the detection of algorithmic discrimination.

Already in 2020,Equinet started to compile and promote good practices, and in 2021, Equinet launched an online platform for peer exchange and learning including a password-protected discussion forum (currently suspended due to transfer to Equinet’s webpage). Since 2022, Equinet has a dedicated working structure that gathers experts from Equality Bodies across Europe and serves as a peer exchange and capacity-building platform with regular annual meetings.

Shaping equality-compliant AI policies

The expansion and diversification in the uses of AI systems have led to important legislative developments at the European level, both within the European Union and the Council of Europe. Equinet and Equality Bodies have been advocating for equality to be a central consideration in any legislative measure that approaches AI's human and ethical implications.

The AI Act

Equinet has been actively engaged in the developments surrounding the AI Act, the first international regulation on AI in the world. By embedding an equality perspective, the AI Act may live up to its potential as a tool for promoting equality and protecting the rights of individuals in the current context of expanding uses of AI systems.

Equinet has participated since the early stages of the legislative process, contributing already to the 2020 European White Paper on AI, the 2021 public consultation on AI, and in 2022 through a Position Paper on Regulating for European AI that protects and advances equality, which sought to inform amendment proposals at the Council and the European Parliament.

In 2023, before the first substantive round of political negotiations between the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, we published recommendations for equality-proofing the AI Act. To inform discussions before the last round of negotiations in December 2023, we released a joint statement with ENNHRI, the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions, which highlighted the need for equality safeguards in relation to critically contested issues such as the regulation of foundation models, use of biometrics and governance and enforcement.

In 2024, Equinet is already contributing to ensuring the implementation of the AI Act strengthens the protection of equality through participating (through a liaison status with the CEN-CENELEC Joint Technical Committee 21) in the development of the technical standards based on which developers of AI systems will certify their compliance with the legal requirements of the AI Act.

The Convention on AI, human rights, democracy and rule of law

Equinet has also participated in discussions on drafting the Council of Europe’s Convention on AI, human rights, democracy and rule of law. We have contributed to consultations at Council of Europe’s CAHAI and since January 2023, we hold an observer status before the Council of Europe’s Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAI). We have submitted comments and participated in several plenary sessions of CAI, including through a joint statement with ENNHRI on a need for independent and effective oversight mechanisms at the national and European levels.

On 14 March 2024, we delivered a statement of concern at the last plenary session of the Committee on Artificial Intelligence, right after the Committee unveiled the final text of the Convention.


  • Equinet Coordinator on AI: Milla Vidina