Jan 31, 2019

Lawmakers plunge into "deepfake" war

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

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 1,088,878 — Total deaths: 58,773 — Total recoveries: 225,438Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 273,880 — Total deaths: 6,889 — Total recoveries: 9,521Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear cloth masks or face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
  4. 2020 latest: Wisconsin governor calls for last-minute primary election delay.
  5. Oil latest: The amount of gasoline American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. President Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  6. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  7. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Government will cover uninsured patients' coronavirus treatment

Azar at Friday's briefing. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The federal government will cover the costs of coronavirus treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a White House briefing Friday.

How it works: The money will come from a $100 billion pot set aside for the health care industry in the most recent stimulus bill. Providers will be paid the same rates they get for treating Medicare patients, and as a condition of those payments, they won't be allowed to bill patients for care that isn't covered.

More states issue stay-at-home orders as coronavirus crisis escalates

Data: Axios reporting; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a stay-at-home order on Friday as the novel coronavirus pandemic persists. The order goes into effect Saturday at 5 p.m. and will remain in place through April 30. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson also issued a statewide social distancing order on Friday.

The big picture: In a matter of weeks, the number of states that issued orders nearly quadrupled, affecting almost 300 million Americans.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 44 mins ago - Health