A new technology, broadly deployed, raises profound questions about its impact on American society. Government agencies wonder whether this technology should be used to make automated decisions about Americans. News reports document mismanagement and abuse. Academic experts call attention to concerns about fairness and accountability. Congressional hearings are held. A federal agency undertakes a comprehensive review. Scientific experts are consulted. Comments from the public are requested. A White House press conference is announced. A detailed report is released. The centerpiece of the report is five principles to govern the new technology.
The year is 1973. And the report Records, Computers, and the Rights of Citizens provides the foundation for modern privacy law. The report sets out five pillars for the management of information systems that come to be known as "Fair Information Practices." The report will lead directly to the passage of the 1974 Privacy Act, the most comprehensive privacy law ever enacted in the United States. To this day, Fair Information Practices, developed by a commission led by computer scientist Willis Ware, remains the most influential conceptions of privacy protection.
Fast forward 50 years later. The Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights is announced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The 2022 report marks a turning point in U.S. AI policy, and like the 1973 report, follows a familiar trajectory.. That is too soon to assess. But many of the criticisms are far off the mark. Like the "Rights of Citizens" report, the AI Bill of Rights set out no new rights. And like the 1973 report, the recommendations in the Blueprint requires action by others. But the most remarkable parallel is the five principles at the center of both reports. The "Rights of Citizens" report set out the Fair Information Practices:
The 2022 Blueprint stated:
The Fair Information Practices allocated rights and responsibilities in the collection and use of personal data. The 2022 Blueprint has set out "Fair AI Practices," allocating rights and responsibilities in the development and deployment of AI systems. This could well become the foundation of AI policy in the U.S.
In the years ahead, it will be interesting to see whether the AI Bill of Rights occupies a role in American history similar to that of the 1973 "Rights of Citizens" report. But at the outset, one point is certain: the similarities are striking.
Marc Rotenberg is the founder and president of the Center for AI and Digital Policy (CAIDP). He is the editor of the AI Policy Sourcebook and served on the OECD AI Group of experts.
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