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Chairman Rosendale Delivers Opening Remarks at Oversight Hearing on Maintaining Veteran Data Privacy in New World of AI

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the subcommittee’s hearing to examine the impact of artificial intelligence on veteran data privacy:


Good afternoon. The Subcommittee will come to order.


I want to welcome our witnesses to today’s hearing examining how the Brave New World of artificial intelligence will impact data privacy at VA.


This is the Subcommittee’s third privacy hearing. We take this subject very seriously.


Veterans entrust the VA with data on every aspect of their lives—often more information than any other government agency or company possesses.


Yet the VA struggles at every level to comply with the law and keep veterans’ health, personal, and financial information secure.


Data breaches happen every few months, and they have taken many different forms.


We have seen mass errors by a contractor mailing letters to the wrong veterans.


We have seen employees lose or steal records, and send files beyond the VA network where their ultimate destination is unknown.


We have also seen companies gain access to veterans’ data under false pretenses.


No successful, large scale cyberattack on the VA has been disclosed in several years. But we also know the Department is the target of thousands of attacks every day. It remains a constant risk.


The VA can be the target and at fault—sometimes both in the very same data breach.


No organization can prevent every breach.


But in many of these incidents, VA officials did not realize that veterans’ information had been mishandled until well after the fact.


In these situations, time is critical.


The only way to step in before veterans’ data makes its way from unwitting recipients to criminals is to move fast.


Employees reported most of the breaches we will discuss today, and I commend them for that.


The examples I just described are a significant problem and put veterans in a precarious position.


But they represent the Stone Age compared to the privacy risks posed by artificial intelligence.


Much has been said about AI here on Capitol Hill.


Unfortunately, I think most of it can be characterized as utopian or apocalyptic.


The AI companies and their emissaries want us to focus on speculative, civilizational threats rather than the practical problems that are right in front of us.


AI has been with us for several years in different forms, but it is quickly becoming ubiquitous.


The VA is accustomed to operating as an island.


That has many downsides, but in research and technology, it can actually be beneficial for protecting private information.


But the AI business model is moving quickly and overtaking the island.


AI is being imbedded into all sorts of software, dual-use AI models are proliferating, and narrow AI applications are broadening.


In other words, the days of putting one data set into an AI model that only does one thing are ending.


And the VA has thousands of contractors and partner companies that access veterans’ health and personal data today. Controlling how they apply AI will be extremely difficult.


Without a doubt, I think the VA is using AI for some admirable purposes.


Applying machine learning to analyze medical images can save lives by recognizing indicators of illnesses that the most experienced doctor may miss.


Chatbots for customer service can be helpful if done well, and the VA has a lot of catching up to do.


Sophisticated automation can clean up VA’s troves of disorganized administrative data in hours, whereas employees have been struggling with it for years.


On the other hand, using AI to predict clinical outcomes or mental health problems may be powerful, but it presents a host of ethical problems. Even if the VA manages to prevent bias, the imposition on civil liberties cannot be ignored.


My goal here is to learn more about what the VA is already doing with AI, and how our witnesses plan to adapt the Department’s old-fashioned process as the technology evolves around them.


I appreciate our witnesses being here to explain all that.


With that, I yield to Ranking Member Cherfilus-McCormick for her opening statement.
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