Inside AI Policy

July 22, 2024

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Sen. Hickenlooper offers ‘framework’ for regulating AI technologies based on auditing, privacy

By Rick Weber / February 6, 2024

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) is offering a “framework” for regulating artificial intelligence based on creating an auditing system for the development and use of safe AI technologies, with a focus on transparency, protecting consumer data and building international coalitions.

“We can’t let an industry with so many unknowns and potential harms police itself,” said Hickenlooper in a Feb. 5 keynote speech at the Silicon Flatirons Flagship conference. “We need qualified third parties to effectively audit generative AI systems and verify their claims of compliance with federal laws and regulations,” he added.

Hickenlooper said he was offering his plan for broad AI legislation in order to maintain U.S. leadership on the transformational technology after European Union officials on Feb. 2 voted to move their landmark AI Act, which had been mired by closed-door negotiations for months.

“On Friday, the EU released the compromise text” of the AI Act, Hickenlooper noted. “They had unanimous agreement, even the skeptics like France, Germany and Italy signed on,” he told the U.S. tech industry audience.

“There’s important work for all of us ahead. It’s going to take all of us, including Silicon Flatirons to establish and maintain American supremacy in AI responsibility,” he added.

His proposed legislation would require that AI systems are “transparent about the data models they are trained on and the personal data the companies collect. Whether it is determining when consumers are seeing AI-generated images or when an AI system is making hiring decisions, consumers deserve to know,” according to a statement from his office.

Hickenlooper’s proposal calls for the establishment of a long-stalled national data privacy law to “protect consumers, minimize the amount of unnecessary personal data collected and sold by private companies, and build consumer trust,” according to the statement.

“The U.S. should be the leader in developing international norms, agreements, and technical standards for AI so we can ensure they’re made with democratic values and individual freedom in mind. A global governance framework will allow American companies large and small to compete internationally under a single set of strong, consumer-oriented protections,” the statement says.

Hickenlooper said Congress has been slow to move on legislation that would mitigate the AI risks that most affect consumers.

“Sure, Congress has reacted here and there when the platforms have been especially egregious. But otherwise, they’ve been pretty much left to their own devices,” he told the tech audience.

“And all the while, bills have been introduced in Congress and languished while the algorithms churn on, reshaping our reality,” he said.

“The biggest question we should be asking ourselves today is if we want to recreate the social media self-policing tragedy with AI And whether these AI companies should be shielded from legal liabilities if they aren’t doing enough to prevent the harms their systems could create,” he added, referring to a decades-old liability exemption granted to online platform companies to promote innovation.

“We can’t let an industry with so many unknowns and potential harms police itself,” said Hickenlooper. “We need qualified third parties to effectively audit generative AI systems and verify their claims of compliance with federal laws and regulations.”

Many AI companies are already conducting risk assessments, but qualified third parties are needed to audit generative AI systems and verify compliance with federal laws and regulations, he said.

He is calling for “defined auditing practices -- like the financial audits companies undertake -- for both classical AI systems and generative AI systems” and to encourage collaboration and grow trust between industry and the public, according to the statement from his office.

“So, Congress needs to fulfill our long-standing promise to pass comprehensive federal [privacy] legislation that protects consumers and spurs innovation, hand-in-hand with global developers,” he said as a call to action to his colleagues.

Hickenlooper was an active participant in Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-NY) closed-door AI “insight” forums which concluded in December. The meetings with industry leaders and other AI policy stakeholders were intended to guide lawmakers, their staff and committee leaders on drafting AI legislation expected to be acted on later this year. Hickenlooper is chairman of the Commerce consumer protection and data security subcommittee.

During a U.S. Chamber of Commerce global summit on AI in September, Hickenlooper cautioned against over regulation and called for frameworks on managing AI risks, as well as a national privacy law.

“We’ll need legislation and we’ll need frameworks,” Hickenlooper told the pro-business audience. “That’s where the magic will be. We don’t want to stand in the way of innovation, we want to ensure the United States stays ahead.”