The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is seeking comments on how private firms are using artificial intelligence (AI) to keep a watchful eye on their employees.

According to the White House’s request for information (RFI) published on Monday, OSTP wants to better understand companies’ use of automated surveillance to manage workers – including its prevalence, purposes, deployment, and impacts.

Eight of the ten largest private U.S. employers track the productivity metrics of individual workers, according to research the White House noted in its RFI. Additionally, the document cites that the percentage of large employers using automated tools to track their workforce doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, to 60 percent.

The May 1 RFI calls for responses from employers and workers who utilize surveillance tools to better understand their uses and ensure that these systems do not undermine workers’ rights, opportunities, access, health, or safety.

“These systems may allow employers to more closely monitor worker performance; protect public health and safety; make decisions about promotion, discipline, or termination; or manage work assignments, schedules, and supply chains,” the RFI says.

Specifically, the White House notes that grocery store cashiers are monitored on the speed of their transactions with customers, and office workers keystrokes, chats, emails, and other communications are collected and monitored.

“Applications of automated surveillance and management systems can also pose risks to workers and even violate labor and employment laws,” OSTP states. “Emerging research suggests that certain applications of these systems may undermine the quality of work; workers’ rights to a safe and healthy workplace; compensation for time worked; labor market competition; and workers’ ability to organize and work collectively with their coworkers to improve working conditions, including through labor unions.”

In October, the Biden administration released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, which states that individuals “should be free from unchecked surveillance.” The documents notes that continuous surveillance can pose harms to workers.

OSTP is seeking input from the public on the prevalence, uses and purposes, and deployment of automated worker surveillance and management systems – including impacts of these systems on workers’ legal rights and lives.

The RFI is seeking responses by June 15 – specifically from workers that have experienced surveillance, employers that use surveillance systems, and technology vendors that sell the AI.

Earlier this week, OSTP Director Arati Prabhakar said that the Biden administration is “very active” in the realm of AI regulation, and that we should expect to continue to see work coming from the White House in this area.

“Some very important pieces are happening,” Prabhakar said during the Milken Institute Global Conference on May 1. “Our work at the White House and working with our colleagues across government is really the bigger question of a comprehensive and cohesive approach to policy that will allow us to get the kind of governance over AI that we need to make this whole story come out right.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan