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“Common Law Systems,” in Fundamentals of America

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A similar idea appeared in a more comprehensive draft bill circulated last year by Senator Ron Wyden, but Mr. Wyden has yet to introduce that bill this session. Instead, like Mr. Warner, he seems to have turned his attention to downstream effects — for the time being, at least. This year, he is sponsoring a bill foralgorithmic accountability, requiring the largest tech companies to test their artificial intelligence systems for biases, such as racial discrimination, and to fix those biases that are found.

A grand bargain privacy bill is said to be in the works, with a handful of lawmakers from both parties haggling privately over the details. Forward-thinking legislation — and the public hearings that would inform its passage — are urgently needed. Americans deserve a robust discussion of what privacy rights they are entitled to and strong privacy laws to protect them.

Congress’s earliest attempts to regulate computing in the 1980s and 1990s were embarrassing. The Congressional Record shows that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, for instance, was prompted by a fantastical Hollywood film about a boy hacker. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 — many sections of which were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the following year — had its origins in a moral panic about internet pornography touched off by questionable research. All this lent support to the received wisdom that the tech industry is best left to its own devices without the interference of a clueless legislature.