Senate Bill Combats Biased Algorithms

Senate Democrats have introduced a measure that would require companies to check their algorithms for bias before implementation. The Algorithmic Accountability Act introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Senator Booker expressed concerns with the potential uses of biased algorithms in a press release on the bill’s introduction.

“50 years ago my parents encountered a practice called 'real estate steering' where black couples were steered away from certain neighborhoods in New Jersey. With the help of local advocates and the backing of federal legislation they prevailed. However, the discrimination that my family faced in 1969 can be significantly harder to detect in 2019: houses that you never know are for sale, job opportunities that never present themselves, and financing that you never become aware of -- all due to biased algorithms," Booker said. "This bill requires companies to regularly evaluate their tools for accuracy, fairness, bias, and discrimination. It's a key step toward ensuring more accountability from the entities using software to make decisions that can change lives.”

Under the legislation, the FTC would have two years to develop regulations requiring companies to create impact assessments for their algorithmic software. It would also require companies to assess how well their systems protect user privacy.

This law would apply to companies that earn more than $50 million per year in revenue or collect data on more than 1 million people.

The bill is endorsed by several tech and civil rights groups, including Data for Black Lives, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

While the White House has not responded directly to this legislation yet, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy noted fears last year that overregulation could “kill a nascent technology before it ever has the chance to fuel economic growth or create new jobs.”

A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY).

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