Interview with Magdalena Siwanowicz-Suska,Moje Państwo Foundation
Moje Państwo Foundation’s mission is to strengthen citizen rights for access to information, secure freedom of expression, and tackle corruption. The Foundation wants governments to be transparent and accountable – also when using technology that impacts citizens’ rights and obligations. Moje Państwo creates tools, conducts research, and strategic litigation that aims to increase transparency and civic participation. The organisation focuses mainly on Central and Eastern Europe, but also conducts projects on a global scale.
The objective of Moje Państwo Foundation is to bring more transparency and accountability in Automated Decision Making in the public sector in Poland, Central and Eastern Europe, and the EU. The Foundation does this in several ways: by expanding its research activities to better understand the state of play in CEE countries and disseminating results within the EU institutions; improving the transparency of ADM through strategic litigation and other legal instruments such as public consultations; supporting public institutions in building their knowledge and capacity in the field; setting up standards on the transparency of ADM by proposing Algorithmic Impact Assessment forms and other policy documents. We have talked to Magdalena Siwanowicz-Suska, Moje Państwo ‘s Legal Director to find out more about their work and their strategic litigation cases.
Tell us a bit more about your organisation. While we support your work on AI, you also work on corruption and strengthening citizen rights more broadly. Why do we need an organisation like Moje Państwo in this field?
Magdalena: Moje Państwo Foundation (previously: ePaństwo Foundation) was established by Daniel Macyszyn over 10 years ago. We started out as an organization monitoring the work of the parliament. At that time, Poland lacked a simple source of public information about the activities of specific members of the Parliament of Poland. Simultaneously, there was no easy way to access information that was not processed by the media. It was the motivation for our Founder to create the Sejmometr portal, which allowed for quick and intuitive familiarization with the work of MPs and improved transparency in the fight against corruption. It was the first of a number of technological tools developed by the Foundation to provide convenient access to public data and strengthen citizens’ rights to information. Currently, millions of users use the portals created by the Foundation.
The Foundation participates in the public debate and cooperates with public authorities, trying to influence the culture and ways public officials use technological tools. We do not only talk about technology but also create it, which gives us the unique opportunity of having first-hand, professional experience on how technology should be implemented. We also conduct legal activities aimed at expanding citizens’ access to data from the public sector, including public sector use of AI systems and algorithms. With technological competences and experience in public advocacy, we can really understand how AI systems work, identify risks and propose practical solutions in this area.
Apart from that, the Foundation has been leading a discussion about democracy, politics and technology for the CEE region, wider Europe and worldwide for many years, by organizing, among other things, the Personal Democracy Forum CEE. Our perspective lies in connecting the EU and non-EU members and acts as a hub for exchanging views. We see Europe in a wider context than just the EU and we believe that the EU should be open to experiences of non-EU European countries. The question of regulating and implementing AI/ADM solutions is part of the broader mission, which is to increase the accountability of decision making in the public sector.
You were the first organisation in Poland to build web portals and apps that can help citizens hold their leaders accountable on a national scale. Your project with us focussed on particular on increasing government transparency and accountability around AI in the public sector. What is the current state of transparency in the public sector and what do you see as some of the main challenges?
Magdalena: Poland is changing in this respect, these are slow but positive changes. Public authorities have done a lot in the context of transparency in the past ten years, but there is still a lot to be done. There are still examples of public institutions that do not want to share information with the public, and this is a problem that affects the CEE region.
From our perspective the challenge is access to public information needed to build good practices in the scope of AI and ADM used by the public sector. As the Foundation we come across the culture of secrecy in many crucial institutions for citizens, for example the Ministry of Justice. We have to fight for information, which helps us to assess the public sector’s use of AI/ADM systems. To gain access to the algorithm, which assigns cases to judges in common courts, firstly we had to receive a court verdict that the algorithm of the system is public information (it took 4 years of court proceedings). The lack of released information about the public sector’s use of AI/ADM systems is taken advantage of by us to show that a high level of transparency is crucial when it comes to the use of new technologies by the state.
In December a very important hearing – in the context of the right to public information – will be held before the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. This is a consequence of a request by the First President of the Supreme Court regarding the non-compliance of certain provisions of the Access to the Public Information Act with the principle of legal certainty and the right to privacy. The direction of the proposed changes is worrying.
From our perspective regulating the topic of AI/ADM cannot be separated from the transparency and accountability of public sector activities. In matters related to new technologies, the public sector often tries to use an excuse that citizens do not need to know some kind of information, because it is not a public matter, it is only technical information. We try to emphasize that technology in the public sector is a tool to achieve certain goals, it results from technological progress and cannot be an explanation for refusing to provide information about public authorities activities.
Another challenge is to balance the proportion by the public sector between concentrating on ADM / AI as the way to boost up the economy and securing its transparency and accountability. Our role is to alert the government that the regulation of AI and ADM cannot come at the expense of these principles.
Would you like to share anything you have learned so far?
Magdalena: The use of AI in the public sector is already a reality and this is happening in Poland, Europe and many countries in the world. Such systems currently exist in the areas of public finance, social welfare, health, justice and agriculture. Before the work on the AI Act will be completed, public institutions will implement many AI systems, and the regulation will not address all the challenges that arise in this area. Therefore, it seems very important now for us to create and test good standards around AI in the public sector as well as discuss solutions that will increase the efficiency of administration activities, but at the same time will put citizens’ rights first.