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Artificial Intelligence and Civil Rights

Artificial intelligence (AI) generally refers to machine-based systems that can make predictions, recommendations, or decisions influencing real or virtual environments. AI technologies are used to complete tasks usually performed by humans. While these emerging technologies may be useful tools, they can also result in unlawful discrimination. The Civil Rights Division is committed to confronting issues that lie at the intersection of AI and civil rights.

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Public Speeches, Statements, and Readouts

The Justice Department announced that five new cabinet-level federal agencies have joined a pledge to uphold America’s commitment to core principles of fairness, equality and justice as new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) become more common in daily life.

On January 10, 2024, the Civil Rights Division convened the heads of civil rights offices and senior officials from multiple federal agencies to discuss the critical intersection of AI and civil rights as directed by President Biden’s Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence. The heads of civil rights offices and senior officials from multiple federal agencies discussed their efforts to safeguard civil rights through robust enforcement, policy initiatives and ongoing education and outreach. This was the first of a series of principal meetings focused on AI and civil rights.

On November 13, 2023, Johnathan Smith, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, spoke on a panel focused on federal agencies’ use and regulation of AI and the impact of emerging technologies on the regulatory environment. Mr. Smith emphasized the role non-regulatory materials, like guidance for employers using AI tools, can play in addressing discriminatory uses of AI. Other panelists included Commissioners from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

On October 25, 2023, Louis Lopez, Chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Policy and Strategy Section, delivered closing remarks at an event co-hosted by William & Mary Law School’s Digital Democracy Lab, Data & Society, and the Center for Democracy & Technology. The event, “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights: One Year Later,” featured a panel of experts on AI governance. Mr. Lopez noted the Division’s policy and enforcement efforts to combat algorithmic discrimination, including our guidance on how algorithms and AI can lead to disability discrimination in hiring, our joint statement with other federal agencies pledging our commitment to protect individuals’ rights with respect to emerging technologies, and our settlement with Meta regarding its discriminatory use of housing advertisements.

On April 25, 2023, four agency heads—Rohit Chopra, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Charlotte A. Burrows, Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and Lina M. Khan, Chair of the Federal Trade Commission—issued a joint statement about enforcement efforts to protect the public from bias in automated systems and AI. While AI tools offer the promise of advancement, the statement makes clear that the use of AI also has the potential to perpetuate unlawful bias, automate unlawful discrimination, and produce other harmful outcomes. The joint statement confirms that existing legal authorities apply to the use of emerging technologies just as they apply to other practices.

On December 14, 2021, in a keynote address to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Kristen Clarke highlighted the Civil Rights Division’s central concerns that the lack of transparency and accountability in automated decision-making opens the door to potential discrimination. AAG Clarke emphasized the Division’s commitment to leveraging the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and a host of other federal civil rights laws to ensure that entities do not unlawfully discriminate through their use of AI systems.

Guidance and Other Documents

  • The Civil Rights Publishes Guidance for Employers Using Automated Software for Employment Eligibility Verification

On December 1, 2023, the Civil Rights Division issued an employer fact sheet discussing what employers should consider when using private sector commercial or proprietary software and products to electronically complete, modify, or retain the Form I-9.

  • The Civil Rights Division Issues Guidance on Artificial Intelligence and Disability Discrimination in Employment

On May 12, 2022, the Department of Justice released a technical assistance document entitled, “Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Disability Discrimination in Hiring.” The document describes how algorithms and AI can lead to disability discrimination in hiring.

  • The Civil Rights Division Publishes Article on Civil Rights in the Digital Age

In January 2022, the Civil Rights Division published an article entitled, “Civil Rights in the Digital Age: The Intersection of Artificial Intelligence, Employment Decisions, and Protecting Civil Rights.” This article provides an overview of the predominant issues arising from employment practices concerning the use of AI and discusses the work that the Department of Justice and other federal agencies are doing to address those issues in that context.

Cases and Matters

  • In January 2023, the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a Statement of Interest (SOI) in Louis et al. v. SafeRent et al. to explain the Fair Housing Act’s application to algorithm-based tenant screening systems. The complaint in that case alleged that SafeRent, formerly known as CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions, LLC, provides tenants screening services that discriminate against Black and Hispanic rental applicants who use federally-funded housing choice vouchers to pay all or part of their rent, in violation of the Fair Housing Act and Massachusetts state laws. 
  • In November 2022, the Civil Rights Division filed a consent decree resolving allegations that the Regents of the University of California on behalf of the University of California, Berkeley, failed to provide much of its online content (such as courses, lectures, and conferences) in an accessible manner to individuals with disabilities, including through the use of inaccurate automated captioning technology for people with hearing impairments. On December 2, 2022, the district court approved the decree. Under the decree, among other things, the University will not rely solely on YouTube’s automated AI-based technology and will provide accurate captions for its online content.
  • In June 2022, the Civil Rights Division, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, filed a complaint and a proposed settlement agreement in United States v. Meta Platforms, Inc., f/k/a Facebook, Inc. The court signed the settlement agreement on June 26, 2022, and entered the agreement and final judgment on June 27, 2022. The case was referred to the Division from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD alleged that Facebook’s advertisement delivery system, which consists of detailed targeting options and a machine-learning algorithm, allowed housing advertisers to exclude certain Facebook users from seeing housing advertisements based upon protected characteristics, such as race and gender or proxies for such characteristics.
  • In June 2022, the Civil Rights Division announced an initial round of settlements with 16 employers that used college and university online recruitment platforms, including Georgia Tech’s platform, to post job advertisements that discriminated against non-U.S. citizens.
  • In December 2021, the Civil Rights Division signed a settlement with Microsoft Corporation that resolved claims of discrimination based on citizenship status against non-U.S. citizens. Specifically, the Division found that Microsoft engaged in a pattern or practice of unfair documentary practices by requesting specific documents using employment eligibility verification software during the initial employment eligibility verification process and during reverification.
  • In August 2021, the Civil Rights Division settled an investigation of Ascension Health Alliance, who engaged in a pattern or practice of unfair documentary practices by improperly programming its employment eligibility verification software to automatically send reverification e-mails to all non-U.S. citizen employees, even when it was not necessary. The Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from requesting more or different documents than necessary to prove work authorization based on employees’ citizenship, immigration status, or national origin.
Updated April 12, 2024