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Federal agencies that use AI should have civil rights offices, Democratic senators say

Sen. Markey’s new legislation focuses on AI bias and discrimination.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) speaks during an event in front of the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 8, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A group of Senate Democrats want federal agencies that deploy artificial intelligence to establish civil rights offices. New legislation introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., on Tuesday would require those agencies to create offices focused on algorithmic discrimination and AI bias, and to report back to Congress about their work. 

The Eliminating Bias in Algorithmic Systems (BIAS) Act is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Peter Welch of Vermont, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. Several civil rights and privacy groups focused on AI, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Upturn and New America’s Open Technology Institute, support the legislation. 

“From housing to health care to national security, algorithms are making consequential decisions, diagnoses, recommendations, and predictions that can significantly alter our lives,” Markey in a statement. “As AI supercharges these algorithms, the federal government must protect the marginalized communities that have already been facing the greatest consequences from Big Tech’s reckless actions. “

The bill comes amid a series of legislative proposals to rein in the technology and a series of AI “Insight Forums” hosted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. It also comes after the Biden administration’s sweeping new executive order on artificial intelligence, which established myriad new responsibilities for many agencies working with the technology. 

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A recent GAO report found that the government has inventoried about 1,200 AI use cases. 

Rebecca Heilweil

Written by Rebecca Heilweil

Rebecca Heilweil is a technology reporter for FedScoop, where she covers topics including space, transportation, quantum computing and disaster management. Previously she was a reporter at Recode/Vox, and has written for publications including Fortune, Slate, The Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Inquirer. You can reach her at rebecca.heilweil@fedscoop.com

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