June 24, 2024

DPO vs. AI Ethics Officer: Who Do You Need to Stay AI-Compliant?


Ensuring AI compliance presents complex challenges. As an increasing number of businesses choose to rely on AI in their operations, questions rise in relation to its lawful deployment and relevant regulations.

This article is brought to you by the Legal Nodes Privacy Team. Legal Nodes is a legal platform that supports tech companies operating globally. We help businesses establish and maintain legal structures and handle privacy, data protection and compliance matters in 20+ countries.

Please note: none of this information should be considered as legal, tax, or privacy advice. We do our best to make sure information is accurate at the time of publishing, however laws and practices may change. To kickstart your AI compliance process and find out how Legal Nodes can help you, book a free call now.

Finding a straightforward solution here can be difficult. Partly, this is due to the diverse range of AI applications. For example, AI apps that process children's data would trigger compliance considerations very different from AI used in HR.

To add to the challenge, the rapid changes in AI regulations also demand ongoing updates and focus. In many jurisdictions, rules for AI change so fast that often companies just can’t keep up with them. Instead, they choose to rely on basic legal and ethical principles to simplify compliance and anticipate upcoming regulations. 

This landscape makes compliance experts with a deep understanding of AI’s regulatory environment highly sought after. Yet, many companies face this question: who is best suited to oversee AI compliance?

This article aims to help answer this question and guide you on the key essentials of the roles and basic responsibilities in AI governance. We hope this article helps those in the AI field, like startup founders, investors, and anyone wanting to understand how to better comply with AI rules.

Update! The EU AI Act in 2024

When it comes into force, the EU's long-awaited AI Act will impact lots of different businesses. Use our free EU AI Act Self-Assessment Tool to find out how it could impact yours. For more information on AI regulations, explore our AI global regulations tracker, or deep dive into our article on navigating UK AI regulations.

You can also explore our Resource Center to find useful guides on how to incorporate privacy protection into AI product design. If you're thinking about using ChatGPT in some of your business processes, you may need to address ChatGPT privacy risks and ensure GDPR compliance with OpenAI’s API.

Choosing the right compliance role

Considering the challenge, some organizations decide to rely on existing roles such as a Data Protection Officer (DPO). Others explore the possibility of introducing new roles. Notably, the position of an AI Ethics Officer is becoming more and more relevant to provide not only regulatory, but also ethical oversight, and align AI with basic human values.

Though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal role, the right solution is within reach. For this, the organizations should grasp the regulations relevant to their AI and clearly understand each compliance role and its impact on addressing issues.

📚 Get a global overview of AI risk assessments for businesses 

DPO vs. AI Ethics Officer: what’s the difference?

At its core, the primary distinction of a DPO is its legal mandate under many global privacy laws (such as the GDPR). In its nature, this role ensures that an organization’s data practices align with established privacy standards. Given that AI applications often process personal data, a DPO can be very helpful in addressing many of the concerns associated with AI, such as misrepresentation, discrimination, and bias.

In contrast, an AI Ethics Officer’s role extends beyond mere privacy compliance. This position usually requires proactively assessing the wider implications of AI, ensuring its development and adherence to ethical norms and societal values.

Both roles are quite similar. This stems from the fact that data protection is built upon principles that overlap with the basic ethical principles of AI, such as fairness and transparency. Consequently, where AI is concerned, the tasks of DPOs and AI Ethics Officers may look very similar too. On a basic level, both roles would require the following:

AI Ethics Officer vs a Data Protection Officer (DPO) comparison in AI Compliance roles

Which role is more suited for AI compliance?

From the table, it’s evident that both the DPO and the AI Ethics Officer roles overlap in many areas, with the AI Ethics Officer having a wider and more AI-centric expertise. Due to this fact, some organizations might assume that just having an AI Ethics Officer is sufficient for their AI compliance, deeming the DPO less relevant.

This would be a mistake. Though it is true that the position of an AI Ethics Officer is more attuned to AI-specific regulations and the broader ethical challenges posed by AI, casting aside the DPO could lead to overlooking essential compliance requirements.

Data protection forms a cornerstone of AI compliance and currently offers one of the most detailed frameworks for AI regulation. As such, adhering to data protection laws is crucial when creating or implementing AI systems. While an AI Ethics Officer might have insights to ensure that privacy aspects are considered, the nature of this position simply does not satisfy the strict oversight requirements of the data protection laws.

📚 Learn more: what is DPF self-certification for businesses?

So, what is the best solution for AI compliance?

In light of the complexities and overlapping responsibilities of DPOs and AI Ethics Officers, the ideal approach to AI compliance may be not to choose one over the other, but instead to integrate the strengths of both roles. An optimal solution would require a team of compliance professionals who can offer the oversight of a DPO while also providing in-depth guidance on AI compliance and ethics.

However, building such a team internally presents its own set of challenges. Finding professionals with expertise in both privacy and AI ethics is certainly not easy, and ensuring seamless collaboration between them can be even more difficult.

Recognizing this issue, our team at Legal Nodes took the initiative to assemble a group of experts with integrated competencies in both privacy and AI ethics and governance. This unique blend of expertise positions us as a leading external solution for organizations seeking comprehensive AI compliance support.

Legal Nodes offers a DPO subscription, giving you access to a dedicated Data Protection Officer. All our DPOs are certified professionals with relevant privacy experience. Our DPOs are supported by our Privacy Team, who hold a combined high-level of knowledge on privacy regulations, AI ethics and governance. This gives you the benefit of a comprehensive and specialist-guided strategy for your AI use case, without over-stretching your financial resources.

Book a free 30-minute call with one of our experts to share your AI compliance challenges and learn more about how we can help you.

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Kostiantyn holds a certification as an Information Privacy Professional in Europe (CIPP/E). Fuelled by his passion for law and technology, he is committed to the protection of fundamental human rights, including data protection. He adds a musical touch to his repertoire as an enthusiastic jazz pianist in his spare time.

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