Feb 13, 2024 - Politics

Georgia lawmakers investigate deepfake election tricks

Illustration of a yard sign that says VOTE glitching and becoming progressively more pixelated

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Georgia lawmakers are playing catch-up with bad actors using artificial intelligence and deepfakes to sway elections.

Why it matters: We are heading into the first major election cycle in which artificial intelligence will be widely available to voters, governments and political campaigns — and the rules for its use in politics aren't clearly defined, Axios' Arika Herron notes.

Driving the news: State representatives and senators are considering two bills that would make using deepfake images, audio or video to interfere in an election a felony.

Threat level: Conditions are ripe for bad actors to use generative AI to amplify efforts to suppress votes, libel candidates and incite violence, Axios' Ryan Heath writes.

  • The few guardrails in place are voluntary — including those demanded by the White House.

Flashback: In January, a deepfake robocall using President Biden's manipulated voice tried to lower turnout by encouraging people not to vote in the New Hampshire primary, Axios' April Rubin writes.

  • In response, the FCC ruled last week that practice to be illegal under the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Zoom in: Sponsored by Reps. Brad Thomas, R-Holly Springs, and Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, House Bill 986 would make the use of AI to interfere in elections a felony punishable with up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

  • Hearings on the bill meet the definition of inquisitive, as lawmakers debate how to define and create a new state crime centered on a fast-evolving technology.
  • In addition, lawmakers have discussed whether politicians should have to disclose the ethical use of deepfake technology on their campaign materials.

Yes, but: Georgia Tech digital media professor Brian Magerko told Axios that Thomas‘ idea of requiring lawmakers to use a seal to denote the ethical use of AI is a good first step, but does not sway bad actors.

Zoom out: Five states — California, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Washington — have already enacted laws regulating deepfakes in elections, per the consumer advocacy watchdog group Public Citizen.

Ideally, Magerko said, the federal government would create a national policy and experts could create a K-12 and adult workforce curriculum to educate society.

  • Both of those options could take years or more to develop, he said. "It's very difficult to ask people to consume media with skepticism," Magerko said. "But it's more important now than ever. And that's unfortunately going to be our best defense at the moment."

Intrigue: In addition to deepfakes, lawmakers are also considering measures to pre-empt local governments from cracking down on cryptominers and require social media companies to obtain parental consent.

  • Lawmakers also want to create a special committee to continue studying AI's potential effects on Georgia industries and government.

The bottom line: The deepfakes are here. Scrutinize everything.

State of play: Both bills have not been passed out of committee; the first threshold bills must cross before going to the floor for a vote.

  • Meanwhile, the November election is less than 10 months away.
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