It is a commonly held frustration of Long Island residents that our governments seem to always be behind the curve as opposed to ahead of it. Quite regularly we hear the phrase uttered that government “must become proactive rather than reactive.”
As a lawmaker, I often hear this complaint when describing a dilapidated municipal building, a deteriorating sports field, or a poorly maintained road. The major consequences here – almost always extra construction costs for taxpayers – add to the affordability crisis we are facing.
But where government being reactive is turning very dangerous relates to the remarkable developments in artificial intelligence (A.I.). Experts are warning that the consequences of government falling too far behind in terms of rules and protections here will be catastrophic.
Nassau County must heed this warning. That is why I am seeking to propose new legislation called the “Artificial Intelligence Privacy Act.” Research is being conducted to explore the viability of making it a misdemeanor offense to clone someone else’s voice or image through artificial intelligence without their consent. The bill would further affirm our residents’ right to privacy from artificial intelligence tools and allocate new resources to the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) to train personnel and collaborate with federal officials.
As new A.I. technology continues to proliferate and grow in sophistication even beyond what humans can comprehend, both laws and lawmakers’ understanding of this new landscape have not kept up – and consequences have already arrived.
Take the scammer who uses A.I. to clone the voice of a family member so that they can fake a hostage situation and extort ransom. Consider the cyberbully who uses A.I. to clone the image of an individual and creates scenarios that never existed. Or, most egregiously, take those bad actors who exploit A.I. to make and distribute explicit sexual images of women and children.
Data corroborates the cause for concern here. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, A.I. tools with malicious intent resulted in 100,000 computer-generated fake nude images of women created without their consent or knowledge. More troubling yet, an A.I. toolkit was utilized to generate text depicting the sexual exploitation of children.
It is long past time for our government to get serious about protecting the privacy of its citizenry. In my estimation, there is no longer time left to wait.
Let me be clear: This proposal is not birthed of hostility towards A.I. as a whole or the tech sector — one which contains the new, cutting-edge companies that we must attract to our region so that we can secure our tax base and stop Long Island’s exodus of talented young professionals.
In fact, we as a county would be wise to welcome pioneering tech companies specializing in A.I. to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. If there are healthcare firms using A.I. for preventative detection of disease, or environmental firms using A.I. to enhance storm detection systems or bolster conservation efforts, we should absolutely be aggressively courting such companies to set up shop here.
However, it is unacceptable that our government currently lacks an adequate understanding of A.I. and the tools that are needed to best protect residents. The Artificial Intelligence Privacy Act I am seeking to propose would represent the first step of many in the right direction toward a balance between innovation and privacy.
Joshua Lafazan, of Woodbury, has represented Nassau County’s 18th Legislative District since 2018.