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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Senate Advances Bills to Protect Elections from AI

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The bills would require AI-generated election ads to be labeled and prohibit deepfakes of federal candidates.

The Senate Rules Committee passed three bills just months before Election Day to safeguard elections from deception by artificial intelligence. The bills would still need to advance in the House and pass the full Senate to become law, creating a time crunch for rules around election-related deepfakes to take effect before polls open nationwide in November.

The vote happened on the same day that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and three bipartisan colleagues released a roadmap for how Congress should consider regulating AI. The document lays out priorities and principles for lawmakers to consider but leaves the crafting of specific bills to the committees.

The three election bills passed by the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday mark an early step at the federal level to take action on AI in elections. Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who sponsors the bills, noted that states have already moved forward on this issue for state-level elections. For example, according to Klobuchar, 14 states have enacted a form of labeling of AI content.

The measure with the most support in the committee, the Preparing Election Administrators for AI Act, which passed 11–0, would direct the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create a report for election offices about relevant risks of AI to disinformation, cybersecurity, and election administration. It also included an amendment requiring a report on how AI impacts the 2024 elections.

The two other bills, the Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act and the AI Transparency in Elections Act, passed 9–2 out of the committee. The first would prohibit AI deepfakes of federal candidates in certain circumstances when used to fundraise or influence an election and is co-sponsored by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Susan Collins (R-ME). The second, co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would enforce a disclaimer on political ads substantially created or altered by AI (it would not apply to things like color editing or resizing, for example). While the Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act could not regulate satire, Klobuchar noted that the AI Transparency in Elections Act would at least let voters know when satire ads are AI-generated.

Ranking Member Deb Fischer (R-NE) opposed the latter two bills and said they were “over-inclusive, and they sweep in previously unregulated speech that goes beyond deepfakes.” Fischer said the Protection Elections from Deceptive AI Act would restrict unpaid political speech, adding that “there is no precedent for this restriction in the 50-year history of our federal campaign finance laws.” Fischer also said that state legislatures are a more appropriate venue for these kinds of election regulations rather than the federal government.

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But key Democrats on the committee urged action. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said he’s “in many ways, afraid in 2024 we may be less protected than we were in 2020.” He said that’s because “our adversaries realize that interference in our elections is cheap and relatively easy,” and Americans “are more willing to believe certain outrageous theories these days.” Compounding is that “AI changes the whole nature and game of how a bad actor … can interfere using these tools.”

“If deepfakes are everywhere and no one believes the election results, woe is our democracy,” Schumer said during the markup. I hope my colleagues will think about the consequences of doing nothing.”

Schumer noted the committee passage at a press conference on the AI roadmap after the markup and said they’d “like to get that done in time for the election.”

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