US senators call for more Congressional involvement in wake of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica debacle
Senators Cantwell and Young said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should testify on Capitol Hill about where technology is headed.
Congress should be more involved in how businesses use artificial intelligence (AI), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said Tuesday at a panel on that topic sponsored by The Washington Post.
Cantwell and Young are sponsors of the Fundamentally Understanding the Usability and Realistic Evolution of Artificial Intelligence Act of 2017, or FUTURE of AI Act, which includes provisions to make the US more competitive while protecting the public’s privacy rights.
When asked what Congress could be doing in the wake of the news that data firm Cambridge Analytica used data harvested from a “personality prediction” app used by millions of users on Facebook for political targeting purposes during the 2016 election campaign, the senators were allied across party lines.
“I definitely think we need transparency,” Cantwell said. “My colleagues have certainly — Senator Klobuchar and others — proposed legislation to make sure we have fair and honest elections online. That is, that people comply to the same laws that you have to comply to for advertising and information that we do in the broadcast world. So that’s one aspect of this. And then the other aspect is just transparency. We need to know and understand how information is being used and who is behind that information.”
“We need transparency with respect [to] what data is being collected — it’s not always clear to users, but I would also add we need to ensure there’s accountability from all parties involved in these different decisions,” Young said. “Congress has an important role to play in ensuring that if we don’t have clear rules with respect to accountability — who should be responsible for what, what transparency should look like — then we need to optimize our existing system
When asked if Mark Zuckerberg should testify on Capitol Hill, Young said he believed that the Facebook CEO has already been invited.
“I think Mr. Zuckerberg should make himself available to discuss where technology is going in the future and discuss the challenges that we face in this realm and add to the debate, not be silent on it,” Cantwell said.
The moderator asked if the senators felt like “the leading companies are black boxes and if that lack of transparency makes it hard to provide oversight.”
Your question sort of cuts to the heart of a very important policy issue, which is: under what circumstances should we have full transparency? That is, an algorithim made public versus just accountability … We see incredible potential in this technology. It’s already moving forward at a rapid pace in the private sector.
Government is a bit behind here. And before we over-regulate it, we want to make sure we get a better understanding of what sort of policy structures need to be in place so the people can meaningfully participate in an economy driven, in large measure, by AI, so that it’s not biased and so hopefully America can lead with respect to this technology, which has the potential to increase our rate of economic growth. I don’t think we have a clear answer on it yet.”
The US isn’t the only government entity interested in getting to the bottom of what happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The United Kingdom and the European Union have announced their intentions to investigate whether their citizens’ data was also compromised. European privacy laws extend to any company operating in Europe, regardless of where it’s based. The laws — and fines for violating them — are set to become even [more] substantial under the General Protection Regulation (GDPR).