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Senate passes legislation to combat ‘deepfake’ videos

The Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation intended to help further understand the risks posed by “deepfake” videos, or those altered by artificial intelligence to change the meaning of the video.

The Deepfake Report Act would require the Department of Homeland Security to publish an annual report on the use of deepfake technology that would be required to include an assessment of how both foreign governments and domestic groups are using deepfakes to harm national security.

The bipartisan bill was passed by unanimous consent and now heads to the House for consideration. Companion legislation in that chamber, which is also bipartisan, awaits markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Senate version is sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), all of whom said they were happy with Friday’s passage of the bill.

Peters, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement that “with each passing day, deepfakes become easier to create and distribute, opening the door for bad actors to sow discord and mislead thousands with just the click of a button.”

He added that “as we come to terms with this new reality, we must ensure Americans are aware of the risks this new technology poses, and are empowered to recognize misinformation.”

Rounds noted in a separate statement that deepfakes could be used by malicious actors to “influence our elections by manipulating what we see online,” while Hassan described deepfakes as “undermining our ability to separate truths from lies, directly threatening our democracy.”

Deepfakes have been an increasing issue of concern on Capitol Hill this year, particularly after a video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that had been edited to make her appear intoxicated went viral online. Facebook refused to take the video down, though it did not recommend it on its news feed.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed deepfakes while testifying before the House Financial Services Committee this week.

He described deepfake videos as an “emerging threat that we need to get in front of,” and referenced work that his company is doing to study and combat the problem. The company announced in September that it would invest $10 million to study deepfakes.

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