Politicians think they have a way to hold companies accountable for troublesome generative AI: take away their legal protection. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Josh Hawley have introduced a No Section 230 Immunity for AI Act that, as the name suggests, would prevent OpenAI, Google and similar firms from using the Communications Decency Act's Section 230 to waive liability for harmful content and avoid lawsuits. If someone created a deepfake image or sound bite to ruin a reputation, for instance, the tool developer could be held responsible alongside the person who used it.
Hawley characterizes the bill as forcing AI creators to "take responsibility for business decisions" as they're developing products. He also casts the legislation as a "first step" toward creating rules for AI and establishing safety measures. In a hearing this week on AI's effect on human rights, Blumenthal urged Congress to deny AI the broad Section 230 safeguards that have shielded social networks from legal consequences.
In May, Blumenthal and Hawley held a hearing where speakers like OpenAI chief Sam Altman called for the government to act on AI. Industry leaders have already urged a pause on AI experimentation, and more recently compared the threat of unchecked AI to that of nuclear war.
Congress has pushed for Section 230 reforms for years in a bid to rein in tech companies, particularly over concerns that internet giants might knowingly allow hurtful content. A 2021 House bill would have held businesses liable if they knowingly used algorithms that cause emotional or physical harm. These bills have stalled, though, and Section 230 has remained intact. Legislators have had more success in setting age verification requirements that theoretically reduce mental health issues for younger users.
It's not clear this bill stands a greater chance of success. Blumenthal and Hawley are known for introducing online content bills that fail to gain traction, such as the child safety-oriented EARN IT Act and Hawley's anti-addiction SMART Act. On top of persuading fellow senators, they'll need an equivalent House bill that also survives a vote.