Home>Highlight>Assembly panel to hear bills criminalizing undisclosed deepfakes

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Assembly panel to hear bills criminalizing undisclosed deepfakes

Measures seek to hamper manipulated media before technology develops further

By Nikita Biryukov, January 21 2021 2:20 pm

An Assembly panel will hear two measures to curb the use of manipulated media that is often indistinguishable from the real thing to the untrained eye next week.

One measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill) would require manipulated video and audio segments include disclosures, including watermarks, printed messages and verbal statements noting their alterations and briefly describing the same.

Such media, known commonly as deepfakes, are created using sophisticated machine learning techniques to produce realistic — but fabricated — videos and sounds that are difficult to identify as synthetic.

The bills are an attempt to head off the risks associated with sophisticated deepfakes before the technology advances further.

“These are topics that have been important already and they’re only going to become more and more of a concern as the technology continues to improve, so it’s not so much that something happened recently as much as it is we need to address this before it gets much worse,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick).

Deepfakes lacking such disclosures would be subject to criminal penalties if they contain pornographic content intended to harass or humiliate their subject, interfere with official proceedings — including elections — seek to incite conflict or otherwise encourage violence.

Manipulated media meant to further fraud or created by foreign countries to interfere in domestic matters would also be crimes of the third degree, carrying prison sentences of up to five years and fines of up to $15,000, on top of thousands of dollars in civil fines.

A separate measure also due before the Assembly Science and Technology Committee, sponsored by Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), would bar maliciously distributing deepfakes meant to harm candidates within 60 days of an election absent disclosures similar to those in Lampitt’s bill.

Zwicker’s provides no criminal penalties but does allow candidates to sue for damages. It also contains carveouts for news media and satire, though the former must include disclosures about the deepfakes’ authenticity.

While some deepfakes, like this one interposing faces of “Parks and Recreation” characters atop ones from “Full House,” are harmless, that’s not universally true.

Lawmakers are concerned that as the technology that enables deepfakes continues to develop — at a breakneck pace, mind — detection software will be unable to keep up, and the subjects of such forged videos could take a turn toward the dire.

“Soon enough, you’re not going to be able to tell whether or not the person you now see on video is actually the person who is making the remarks, so we can quickly move from humor to something much more nefarious,” Zwicker said.

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