Last week, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced new D.C. legislation aimed at holding “companies & organizations accountable if their algorithms harm vulnerable communities.” The bill was introduced by the Chair of the City Council at the request of the AG.

This comes on the heels of a meeting held in Washington, D.C. last week by the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), a bi-partisan state AG organization that Racine has been the president of for the past year and for which he spearheaded many cutting-edge social justice reforms throughout the U.S. Last week’s NAAG meeting focused heavily on the potential harm algorithms could have on vulnerable individuals and groups and the role AGs have in preventing industries from using such algorithms in a variety of areas, including advertising, financial and medical services, and employment practices, to name only a few. Also emphasized was the influence AGs have to curb algorithmic abuse via legislation, enforcement actions, or both.

Among other things, the bill would:

  • Apply to a broad swath of businesses and individuals, not limited to data brokers;
  • Implement a “notice and consent” requirement when personal information is used in algorithmic determinations;
  • Require covered entities to engage in annual audits of any covered algorithm technologies and report the results of those audits to the D.C. Attorney General; and
  • Empower the D.C. Attorney General to enforce the law and create a private right of action for non-government plaintiffs.

AG Racine announced this legislation with an aggressive social media campaign highlighting that the law would address technologies used to reinforce biases, such as resume scanners that prioritize male candidates, hospitals’ appointment booking systems that rely on harmful stereotypes, and tenant approval algorithms that confuse people with similar names. Racine also highlighted that algorithms that rely on credit scores can have harmful impacts on minorities and marginalized communities.

This legislation is a clear signal by AG Racine to AGs around the country that they can and should lean into the issue of potentially discriminatory algorithms and address it head on through enforcement, notwithstanding potential changes at the federal level.