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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The ACLU will be seeking information about how the government is using artificial intelligence in national security, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The development of AI has major implications for security, surveillance, and justice. The ACLU's request may help shed some light on the government's often opaque applications of AI.

Driving the news: Later today the ACLU will be filing a broad Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CIA, the NSA, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies concerning the government's use of AI, especially in the area of national security.

  • "The problem with these AI systems is that they're black boxes," says Patrick Toomey, senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Security Project. "The public needs to know exactly what kinds of fundamental decisions about our lives the government is handing over to AI."

Details: The ACLU is specifically concerned about "vetting and screening processes in agencies like Homeland Security, and tools that can analyze voice, data and video," says Toomey.

  • Another area of concern is the possibility that AI systems could be "biased against people of color, women and marginalized communities," he adds.
  • "AI systems could be used to supercharge government activities to unfairly scrutinize communities through intrusive surveillance, questioning and even detention and watchlisting."

Background: The FOIA request was prompted in part by a recent 750-page report put out by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence that lays out a case for the U.S. to embrace AI throughout the national security sector.

  • Much of the report views AI through the prism of competition with China, which has used artificial intelligence to help create a vast surveillance state.
  • "We don't have to go to war with China," former Google CEO and commission chair Eric Schmidt told my Axios colleague Ina Fried when the report was released. "We do need to be competitive."

The bottom line: "AI will be a society shaping technology," says Toomey.

  • "Because of that, we have to be considering what safeguards and protections are necessary from the start."

Go deeper

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.