How to ensure legal compliance when a UK business uses personal data for artificial intelligence training?

As the digital age expands, businesses across the UK and beyond are leveraging the power of data, especially personal data, to train their Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. It is an exciting opportunity that offers immense potential for innovation and growth. However, this process also presents significant risks, particularly when it comes to the protection of personal data.

Today, we explore the necessary steps businesses need to take to ensure legal compliance when using personal data for AI training. We will delve into the legal rights of individuals, the role of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. We will also touch on the importance of including human intervention in automated decision-making systems.

Understanding the Legal Rights of Individuals

Every business should be aware that individuals have legal rights concerning their personal data. These rights play a crucial role in the data processing activities of any company, especially those that use personal data for AI training.

Under the GDPR, individuals are granted several rights to control how their data is used. They have the right to access their data, the right to rectification if the data is inaccurate, the right to erasure or 'right to be forgotten', the right to restrict processing, and the right to object. Furthermore, individuals have a right concerning automated decision making and profiling, which can significantly impact businesses using AI.

When using personal data for AI training, companies must ensure these rights are respected. This will involve putting in place systems and procedures to allow individuals to exercise their rights effectively. It might require the design of user-friendly interfaces, customer service training, or even the appointment of a data protection officer.

The Role of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)

The ICO is the UK's independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest. They provide useful guidance on data protection and GDPR compliance.

Any business using personal data for AI training should familiarise themselves with ICO's guidance on AI and data protection. This guidance provides an overview of how data protection principles apply to AI projects, and offers advice on best practices for AI system design and data minimisation.

Most importantly, the ICO can take action against companies that fail to comply with data protection laws. This could include investigations, audits, warnings, reprimands, and even hefty fines. Therefore, maintaining a good relationship with the ICO and adhering to their guidance is not just a legal obligation, but also a wise business decision.

Complying with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR is a legal framework that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal data within the European Union. Despite Brexit, the UK has incorporated the GDPR into its national law, known as the UK GDPR.

The GDPR has several requirements that businesses must meet when using personal data for AI training. For starters, businesses must obtain valid consent from individuals before processing their data. Consent must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous. It also must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.

Moreover, businesses must comply with data minimisation principles. This means that they should only collect and process the data that is necessary to fulfil their stated purpose.

Human Intervention in Automated Decision Making

Automated decision-making systems, including AI, can process vast amounts of data quickly and efficiently. However, the GDPR mandates that individuals have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, that significantly affects them.

This means that businesses using AI systems must ensure some form of human intervention in the decision-making process. Humans should oversee the AI’s decisions and have the authority and competence to override them if necessary.

Furthermore, businesses should provide training to the individuals involved in this oversight. This training should equip them with the knowledge and skills to understand the AI's outputs and to challenge them effectively.

Involving Data Protection from the Beginning

One of the most effective ways of ensuring legal compliance when using personal data for AI training is to incorporate data protection measures from the very start. This approach is known as 'data protection by design and by default'.

In practice, it means considering data protection issues as part of the design and implementation of systems, services, products, and business practices. This could involve implementing strong access controls, encryption, and pseudonymisation techniques, carrying out a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), or appointing a Data Protection Officer (DPO).

By integrating data protection into your business model, you can ensure compliance with the law, build trust with your customers, and foster a data protection culture within your company. The result is a robust AI system that respects individual rights and promotes privacy, offering a competitive edge for your business.

In conclusion, ensuring legal compliance when using personal data for AI training involves a comprehensive understanding of the legal rights of individuals, proactive engagement with the ICO, stringent adherence to the GDPR, fostering human involvement in automated decision making, and embedding data protection from the get-go. Remember, the aim is not just to avoid legal sanctions, but to demonstrate respect for the personal data that fuels your AI systems, fostering trust and loyalty among your customers.

Implementing Lawful Basis for Processing Personal Data

When planning to use personal data for AI training, businesses must establish a lawful basis for processing that data under GDPR. In the context of AI, there are three possible lawful bases that stand out: consent, contractual necessity, and legitimate interests.

Consent is the most commonly used lawful basis. However, it must be properly obtained. It must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous, as well as easily withdrawable. Simply assuming or inferring consent won’t suffice.

The basis of contractual necessity applies when the processing is necessary to enter into or perform a contract with the data subject. Here, businesses should ensure that the use of AI does not infrive on the individual's rights and that the contract is fair and transparent.

The legitimate interests basis allows for data processing when it is necessary for the legitimate interests of the business, except where such interests are overridden by the individual's interests or fundamental rights and freedoms. Using this basis requires conducting a ‘Legitimate Interests Assessment’ (LIA) to balance these interests against the individual’s rights.

Clear documentation of the lawful basis chosen for data processing is essential. It will demonstrate compliance with GDPR to the ICO, and enhance transparency with data subjects.

Ensuring Adequate Data Protection for Automated Decisions

AI systems are often used to make automated decisions, which can significantly affect individuals. For instance, AI could determine whether an individual is approved for a loan or not. Under GDPR, individuals have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing that significantly affects them.

This implies that businesses using AI for automated decision making should ensure an effective human intervention or review mechanism. Such human review ensures that the decision is fair, accurate, and can be explained to the individual.

Additionally, specific safeguards should be put in place for decisions based solely on automated processing. For instance, businesses should carry out regular checks to ensure their AI systems are working as intended, and the decisions they make are accurate. This can be achieved by having a robust testing and validation process, a well-defined error management procedure, and a continuous monitoring system.

Moreover, the businesses should provide clear information about the logic, significance, and consequences of the processing to the individuals concerned.


Using personal data for AI training presents immense opportunities for businesses. However, it also poses significant legal challenges. By understanding and respecting individual rights, engaging proactively with the ICO, adhering strictly to the GDPR, involving human intervention in automated decisions, and integrating data protection from the very beginning, businesses can navigate this complex legal landscape.

Implementing a lawful basis for processing personal data and ensuring adequate data protection for automated decisions are two critical steps towards achieving this. Note that the goal is not just to avoid legal sanctions but to demonstrate respect for personal data that drives your AI systems, thereby fostering trust and loyalty among your customers. Implementing these steps can make your business not just legally compliant but also ethically sound, giving you a competitive edge in the AI-driven digital age.