Two Democratic senators reintroduced legislation on Thursday to establish a new Federal agency that would oversee digital platforms and AI products for a sector that has gone virtually unregulated.

The Digital Platform Commission Act – introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Peter Welch, D-Vt. – would create a “Federal Digital Platform Commission” that would provide comprehensive regulation of digital platforms and AI products to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.

Sen. Bennet introduced similar legislation in May 2022 to establish the Digital Platform Commission – which never went past the desk of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. This version of the bill is modified to account for oversight of AI products more directly by, in part, expanding the definition of a digital platform to include online services offering “content primarily generated by algorithmic processes.”

“There’s no reason that the biggest tech companies on Earth should face less regulation than Colorado’s small businesses – especially as we see technology corrode our democracy and harm our kids’ mental health with virtually no oversight,” Sen. Bennet said in a statement.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission largely oversee digital platforms. However, despite their work to enforce existing antitrust and consumer protection laws, the Federal agencies lack the expert staff and resources necessary for robust oversight.

In addition, proactive long-term rules for the sector are required but both Federal agencies are limited by existing statutes to react to case-specific challenges of digital platforms.

“Big Tech has enormous influence on every aspect of our society, from the way we work and the media we consume to our mental health and wellbeing. For far too long, these companies have largely escaped regulatory scrutiny, but that can’t continue. It’s time to establish an independent agency to provide comprehensive oversight of social media companies,” said Sen. Welch.

The bill would create a five-member Federal commission “empowered to hold hearings, pursue investigations, conduct research, assess fines and engage in public rulemaking to establish rules of the road for digital platforms to promote competition and protect consumers,” according to a summary of the bill.

The bill would also mandate the commission to designate “systemically important digital platforms” subject to extra oversight, reporting, and regulation, including requirements for algorithmic accountability, audits, and explainability. The bill would also direct the commission to “support and coordinate with existing antitrust and consumer protection Federal bodies to ensure efficient and effective use of Federal resources.”

In addition, the bill would create a code council made up of technologists and industry experts to “offer specific technical standards, behavioral codes, and other policies to the commission for consideration, like transparency standards for algorithmic processes.”

“Technology is moving quicker than Congress could ever hope to keep up with. We need an expert Federal agency that can stand up for the American people and ensure AI tools and digital platforms operate in the public interest,” Sen. Bennet said.

The democratic Senators introduced the bills amid calls from AI bigwigs and congressional lawmakers for comprehensive regulations of generative AI technologies and social media services.

Last month AI bigwigs wrote a letter to Congress asking for further training of AI systems and a six-month halt on further utilization due to fears that advanced AI may pose a threat to humanity. And just last week, Samuel Altman, chief executive officer for OpenAI, – the company that created the famed ChatGPT AI tool – testified before Congress about the need for quick and robust AI regulations.

Sen. Bennet has been incredibly vocal about his concerns over the lack of regulations around the use of generative AI tools and services, including ChatGPT.

Sen. Bennet has introduced several bills in the last few weeks aimed at creating further oversight and regulation at a Federal level including the Oversee Emerging Technology Act and the Assuring Safe, Secure, Ethical, and Stable Systems for AI Act.

In a previous statement, Sen. Bennet acknowledged that the Biden administration has taken steps to promote responsible AI usage; however, there remains a lack of a comprehensive roadmap for AI policies, regulations, and tools. Sen. Bennet explained that as the deployment of AI accelerates, the Federal government should lead by example to ensure it uses the technology responsibly.

“Americans deserve the confidence that our government’s use of AI won’t violate their rights or undermine their privacy,” Sen. Bennet said in a press release.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.