A U.S. federal judge ruled that the public must be able to see records from a government-chartered AI advisory group.

What’s new: The court decided that the National Security Commission on AI, which guides defense research into AI-powered warfighting technology, must respond to freedom-of-information requests.

What the suit says: The National Security Commission on AI was set up by Congress in late 2018, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center has been requesting its records under the Freedom of Information Act for almost as long. Finding its requests ignored repeatedly, EPIC took the commission to court in late September.

  • Lawyers for the AI commission argued that their client was protected from freedom of information laws by exemptions for members of the president’s staff, some of whom sit on the commission.
  • EPIC’s attorneys countered by citing a 1990 ruling that congressionally funded groups, such as the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, are considered federal agencies, and therefore obligated to share information with the public.
  • The judge sided with EPIC, so the AI commission will have to respond to the nonprofit’s requests for copies of its meeting transcripts, working papers, studies, and agendas. EPIC also asked that the AI commission publish advance notice of its meetings in the federal register.

Behind the news: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt (shown above) chairs the commission. Other members include a mix of private sector and government experts. It released an interim report of its recommendations on November 4.

Why it matters: EPIC contends that, without public oversight, the commission could steer the Defense Department towards invasive, biased, or unethical uses of AI.

We’re thinking: We look forward to learning more about what this group has been up to. Decisions about deploying AI as a weapon of war should not be made in a back room.

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