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Lawmakers Move to Ban Discriminatory Tech in Washington State

In response to reports detailing AI tech's disproportionate impact on communities of color, Washington State Sen. Bob Hasegawa introduced a bill to ban AI tech and regulate automated decision systems.

The Washington state Legislature, which has proposed legislation in the past to tackle issues such as data privacy and the use of facial recognition tech, is now reviewing a bill that would regulate the use of “automated decision systems” and AI technology within state government.

According to the bill, these systems use algorithms to analyze data to help make or support decisions that could result in discrimination against different groups or make decisions that could negatively impact constitutional or legal rights. 

As a result, Senate Bill 5116 aims to regulate these systems to prevent discrimination and ban government agencies from using AI tech to profile individuals in public areas. 

Sen. Bob Hasegawa, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in an email, “I introduced this bill after reading disturbing reports about the disproportionate impact that AI technology has on communities of color.”

“This technology is changing how we live our day to day lives, and it’s important that we make sure it’s not further deepening the inequities and discrimination in our society before we create a reliance on it,” he said. 

Those in support of the bill, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, claim that if the bill were passed, it would provide strong tools to hold government agencies accountable and make sure that Washington residents aren’t negatively impacted by the technology. 

“This bill would set a precedent and raise awareness of how people’s lives are being affected by algorithmic decision-making tools,” Jennifer Lee, a Technology and Liberty Project manager at the ACLU-WA, said. “There are lots of automated decision systems being used to make decisions regarding sentencing, medical care, banking and other areas that impact peoples lives.”

One area in particular that Lee is concerned about is the use of this technology in regard to policing. History has shown that policing has often been affected by racism, she said. Using these systems to make policing decisions could lead to discrimination against particular groups of people if the tools were allowed to unfairly influence where resources were deployed based on past crimes.

During a hearing of the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, law enforcement officials spoke about the use of this technology from a policing standpoint and asked legislators to clarify how these regulations would impact law enforcement’s use of this technology.

“We have agencies that will use crime reports and algorithms to suggest where we allocate our patrol resources in the highest areas of criminal activity in their jurisdiction,” James McMahan, policy director for Washington’s Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said during the hearing.

“Many of these, we think we would all agree, are legitimate public uses so we would ask for that continued conversation,” McMahan said.

As for the future of the bill, it is currently being reviewed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.