Group says governments can push private sector AI ethics through procurements

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A global think tank is reminding governments that they can indirectly impose ethical practices and standards on the woolly artificial intelligence industry and applications like facial biometrics without resorting to the cumbersome regulatory process.

They should do what motivated consumers and international aid benefactors already do, according to a June 8 release from the World Economic Forum. Lawmakers should let their spending do more of the talking.

Specifically, they should use government procurement policy to influence corporate behavior

The forum has suggested that companies that operate in ways that are sympathetic to societal privacy goals should get relevant government contracts while those seen as bad actors should get shut out.

On the same day that the group published its call to action, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey asked controversial facial-recognition startup Clearview AI to show restraint in how its app is used by its clients (largely police agencies) monitoring civil protests.

Markey is concerned that the 3 billion to 4 billion face images that Clearview AI has scraped without permission from online sites — primarily from social media platforms — will be used by law enforcement agencies to target people nationwide lawfully protesting police brutality.

Clearview AI subscribers can use the firm’s AI software to compare images they have against its photo store. All photos submitted for comparison also become part of the database.

It is reasonable to wonder if police agencies using the company’s app are submitting all of their captured images for matching; nothing stops them from doing so in the United States.

In fact, asking is all Markey realistically can accomplish. There is no federal law that precisely addresses industrial-scale photo scraping or the practice of running publicly collected photos against a database of images.

Nor is there anything approaching consensus among the states about how or even if biometric information that can be found everywhere online should be protected.

There are bans of various degrees against facial recognition by governments, and debate about if even businesses should be allowed to scan faces. Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act is unique among the states in specifically outlawing the use of residents’ fingerprints or face scans without consent.

Essentially, the World Economic Forum is suggesting another option that gets around the lengthy regulatory process and skirts the potentially damaging political process of enacting broad laws.

In a less-partisan (or, really, less-hyper partisan) time in the nation’s capital, Congress could work with the White House to build appropriate AI values into the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

In the absence of that, procurement preferences can be baked into legislation pertaining to individual purchases. However, while the current House of Representatives might move in this direction, the Senate is beholden to the White House right now.

It does not take artificial intelligence to identify the location of square one in this situation.

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