Last week, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce kicked off its first in a series of hearings surrounding the burgeoning topic of artificial intelligence (AI) with a hearing titled “Safeguarding Data and Innovation: Building the Foundation for the Use of Artificial Intelligence.”
While this was the first AI-focused Energy and Commerce hearing this year, Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) noted it was the Committee’s seventh hearing focused on data privacy. Consumer data privacy is a major priority for Chair Rodgers. This first hearing demonstrated that she is keenly focused on the intersection between data privacy and the use of AI in the private sector. She emphasized the need for a national data privacy standard as a “first step towards a safe and prosperous AI future.” “Data is the lifeblood of artificial intelligence,” she said. “As we think about how to protect people’s data privacy, we need to be considering first and foremost how the data is collected and how it is meant to be used, and ensure that it is secured.”
Chair Rodgers is reportedly updating the bicameral, bipartisan consumer data privacy bill from last Congress, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA). While Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is no longer Speaker of the House and thus cannot block floor action to ensure California’s more stringent privacy standards are not eclipsed by federal action, the delay in selecting a new Speaker of the House and the likely backlog of other legislative action that will consume the House floor for the rest of the year suggests that the ongoing debate over technology policy will continue into next year.
Notably, the all-encompassing nature of AI technology means Energy and Commerce is not the only House committee examining AI-related issues under their jurisdiction. Last week, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology also held a hearing on risk management, and the House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on intellectual property.
On the Senate side, the “Gang of Four” – consisting of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Mike Rounds (R-SD) – is rushing to present a workable framework for AI-focused legislation. The gang hosted its first “Insight Forum” to examine AI technology with industry powerhouses in September, and it is expected to host additional topic-based forums in the weeks and months to come. The second one, held this week, focused on “Innovation,” including AI’s potential to unlock transformational innovation – from healthcare to food supply – and the need to ensure that innovation is sustainable.
In the weeks leading up to the New Year, many lawmakers are working to present draft legislation on AI. Congressional committees and leaders will examine a host of issues related to the technology, its potential impacts on society, and how Congress can best legislate against its most ominous capabilities. Members of Congress will also continue to introduce bills addressing more targeted AI-related issues, such as recent legislation related to “deepfake” content and political ads. Meanwhile, expect President Joe Biden to use the powers at his disposal, including by executive order, to begin to shape the federal government’s approach to AI development and regulation without Congress.