Washington grapples with AI deepfakes during election campaign

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Washington grapples with AI deepfakes during election campaign

Public Citizen notes that deepfakes have previously appeared in ads supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, including fake photos that depict former President Donald Trump kissing Anthony Fauci. Such falsifications have alarmed election officials and rights advocates because of their potential to confuse voters and skew election results.

“They’re already good enough to fool you if you’re not very careful,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said in an interview on Thursday’s episode of the POLITICO Tech podcast.

“We are going to have very high quality deepfakes before 2024,” he added. “And in the absence of a federal ban on the use of deepfakes, I think it’s almost certain that political actors of all political stripes will use them.” »

Public Citizen is asking the FEC to clarify that existing rules against “fraudulent representations” apply to false videos, sounds and images, which, due to advances in artificial intelligence, have become increasingly realistic and easy to produce.

Thursday’s scheduled vote is a preliminary step that would determine whether the FEC seeks public comment on the proposed ban. The so-called notice of availability does not commit the board to take further action, and such action generally meets with little opposition.

But an earlier version of the petition failed in June after a similar party-split vote, with the three Republican FEC commissioners arguing that Public Citizen had misquoted the regulation in question and, more importantly, that the requested rule change would be beyond the authority of the agency.

“Congress has given us very limited authority,” Republican Commissioner Allen Dickerson said at the June meeting. “Our jurisdiction on this point is limited to cases where a campaign misrepresents itself as acting on behalf of any other candidate or political party. »

“Instead of coming to us, you talk about it with Congress,” he continued. ” I wish him good luck. »

But in Congress, the issue has also taken a partisan turn. Democratic representative. Yvette Clarke (DN.Y.) introduced a bill in May that would require political ads to disclose the use of AI-generated material. Then in July, 50 Democrats signed a letter to the FEC supporting Public Citizen’s petition.

“The biggest hurdle preventing Washington from acting right now is who owns the problem,” said Katie Harbath, senior adviser for technology and democracy at the International Republican Institute.

“The FEC sent it back to Congress. Congress doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry. The Biden administration says it wants to use existing laws to regulate it. So there’s a lot to sort out there,” continued Harbath, a former director of public policy at Facebook.

Harbath predicts that mainstream media will vigilantly check AI-generated deepfakes and that the technology used to identify parodies will evolve with the technology used to make them. Even still, the “right systems” are needed “to prepare for things you can imagine and how to respond to things you hadn’t imagined,” she said.

“There’s no real deadline or sign of turning back because these issues will last long after SamaGametion, but that doesn’t mean we can wait,” Harbath said.

Weissman said an updated petition Public Citizen submitted last month should address Republican commissioners’ concerns and he’s “cautiously optimistic” they will at least allow a public comment period.

Still, the June vote suggests Republican commissioners are reluctant to consider new rules on artificial intelligence. And even as they gather commentary, partisan gridlock has prevented the FEC from undertaking any serious regulation in recent years.

But, Weissman argues, the problems posed by deepfakes aren’t limited to just one game.

“If there are Republicans or if there are Democrats who think only Republicans are going to use this tool, they are wrong,” Weissman said. “It is almost certain that all political actors, all external consultants, all external organisations, will use this tool if it is legal to do so. »

And he predicts that the unfettered use of deepfakes will cause people to doubt all media, legitimate or not, leading them to simply decide for themselves what is real or not based on whether it underpins their existing political opinions.

“The deepest and most fundamental problem is that people stop believing what they see,” Weissman told POLITICO Tech. “Every bad streak we have for tribalism will be reinforced. »

Annie Rees contributed to this report.

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