Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Deepfakes — digitally forged videos that can be impossible to detect — are called the end of truth, a threat to democracy and a potential disruption to society. Everyone agrees on the danger, but no one has figured out what to do about it.

But now Congress and several states are considering the first legislation against AI-altered videos and audio — suggesting a coming barrage of such laws.

Driving the news:

  • Last month, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) introduced a bill to criminalize the malicious creation and distribution of deepfakes — the first of its kind. Introduced a day before the government shutdown, the bill flew under the radar and expired when the year ended. But Sasse's office tells Axios he intends to reintroduce it.
  • In New York, a controversial state bill would punish people who knowingly make digital videos, photos and audio of others — including deepfakes — without their consent.
  • Other lawmakers are looking into the subject: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) have invited legal scholars to privately brief their staff on deepfakes, and experts tell Axios they're fielding calls from state policymakers.

What's next: Spokespeople for Warner and Schiff said both are considering deepfakes legislation.

"Deepfakes — video of things that were never done with audio of things that were never said — can be tailor-made to drive Americans apart and pour gasoline on just about any culture war fire. Even though this is something that keeps our intelligence community up at night, Washington isn’t really discussing the problem.”
— Sen. Ben Sasse to Axios

Details: Sasse's bill targets two different groups:

  • Individual deepfake creators, if they act with the intent to do something illegal (like commit fraud).
  • Distributors, like Facebook — but only if they know they're distributing a deepfake. That means that platforms could set up a reporting system, like ones used to suppress pirated movies, and take down deepfakes when they're notified of them.

Sasse's proposed punishment: A fine and/or up to two years' imprisonment, or — if the deepfake could incite violence or disrupt government or an election — up to 10 years.

Several experts tell Axios that Sasse's bill is a step in the right direction. But one worry is that it misses the mark in its rules for platforms.

  • Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor and co-author of a landmark law article on deepfakes, says the bill places over-broad liability on distributors. She says it could scare platforms into immediately taking down everything that's reported as a deepfake — potentially deleting legitimate posts in the process.
  • Lawmakers don't get many chances to get this right, says Citron. "You gotta write this correctly." One or two over-broad or ineffective bills and an appetite for a deepfakes law might turn into backlash.
  • Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami and president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, sees the opposite problem: Proving "actual knowledge" that they're circulating a deepfake could be nearly impossible.

But, but, but: Some are less convinced that Congress should step in. David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says making malicious deepfakes a federal crime may hamper protected speech — like the creation of parody videos.

Reality check: New laws would be a last line of defense against deepfakes, as legislation can’t easily prevent their spread. Once the law gets involved, “the harm is so out of the bag and it’s viral,” Citron says. The holy grail, a system that can automatically detect forgeries, is still well out of reach.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
57 mins ago - Economy & Business

GoodRx prices IPO at $33 per share, valued at $12.7 billion

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

GoodRx, a price comparison app for prescription drugs at local pharmacies, on Tuesday night raised $1.14 billion in its IPO, Axios has learned.

By the numbers: GoodRx priced its shares at $33 a piece, above its $24-$28 per share offering range, which will give it an initial market cap of around $12.7 billion.

Updated 58 mins ago - Politics & Policy

House Democrats and Trump admin strike deal to avert government shutdown

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to fund the government through Dec. 11, by a vote of 359-57.

Why it matters: The bill will avert a government shutdown when funding expires in eight days. Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said earlier that they hoped to hold a vote on the legislation on Tuesday evening.

Scoop: Meadows puts agencies on notice about staff shake-up

Internal government email obtained by Axios

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told administration officials Monday to expect senior aides to be replaced at many government agencies, according to an internal email obtained by Axios.

Behind the scenes: Meadows asked the director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office John McEntee "to look at replacing the White House Liaisons (WHLs) at many of your agencies," according to the email. "John will be working with outgoing liaisons to explore other opportunities."

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!