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March 11, 2024 Top Legal News of the Week

Attorney General Garland discusses AI, national security

The United States has an important lead in the development of artificial intelligence that is crucial to the country’s economy and national security, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said at the American Bar Association’s 39th National Institute on White Collar Crime in San Francisco.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, seen here at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting, addressed this year's ABA National Institute on White Collar Crime.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, seen here at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting, addressed this year's ABA National Institute on White Collar Crime.

American Bar Association photo

“The Justice Department’s first job is to protect that lead and to protect our intellectual property,” Garland said. “The Justice Department just will not tolerate theft of trade secrets in the area of artificial intelligence.”

During a fireside chat with Kenneth A. Polite Jr., former assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Garland announced that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California had unsealed an indictment against a Chinese national who is charged with stealing AI-related intellectual property and trade secrets from Google.

Garland said AI and other evolving technologies have “great promise and the risk of great harm … including algorithmic discrimination that AI can foster and the way in which it can accelerate the cyberattacks that are happening daily, even ‘minutely,’ on our companies, on our law firms, on our departments of the government and on our military.”

One of the most serious national security threats is the risk that “foreign maligned actors will use AI to increase the polarizations of this country and to attack our electoral system,” Garland said.

Despite the risks associated with AI, Garland said the technology allows the Justice Department to act more quickly on attacks on their computer systems.

“AI can make it possible for us to defend our systems even better than the machine-learning systems that we’re using,” he said, adding that the department has hired its first chief AI officer and plans to hire more Ph.D.-credentialed computer scientists to increase technology expertise in the agency.

“It’s the only way we’re going to up our game sufficiently to secure our country and to take advantage of AI,” he said.

Garland, who during his career has supervised investigations and prosecutions of the Oklahoma City bombing, Unabomber and Montana Freemen cases, said he is concerned about the “heightened level of threats and the heightened speed of threats against everyone who works in public spaces” – including judges, prosecutors, agents, law enforcement and volunteers and election workers.

“Democracy can’t succeed and cannot work if the people who serve to make sure civic life goes on are fearful of their lives,” Garland said. “That’s why our priority is to fight these attacks.”

He mentioned the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“We know when we have a case of this level of complexity and this level of consequence for the country that we have to get it right,” Garland said. “That means from the very beginning imagining the mistakes that we could make and making sure that we don’t make them because some of them cannot be recovered later. That we think about the entire course of the prosecution, the trial, the appeal … so legal and fact development and strategizing and tactics are all worked on from the beginning.

“That we pressure-test at every stage that we can. And if we look like we’re in a blind alley, we move on to another way to go forward,” he added.

Garland also attended the 59th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March earlier in the week. He said he went because it had a powerful effect on him when he watched it on television as a child.

It also “galvanized the voting rights movement,” he said. “The Voting Rights Act gave the Justice Department important tools to ensure that every eligible person would have a chance to vote and have that vote counted. We feel an obligation to aggressively use the tools we have.

“If election workers and volunteers aren’t willing to make sure that our elections go forward in a fair way, then we’re not going to have elections,” he said.

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