California Tackles “Deepfakes” With Two New Bills

California’s governor Gavin Newsom has signed two new bills aimed at tackling the problem of “deepfakes” – videos and audio altered to make a person falsely appear to say something that they did not. One bill makes it illegal to post deepfake videos of candidates running for political office within 60 days of an election. The other gives people the right to sue anyone who superimposes their face on pornographic content without consent.

The governor said that the laws are to prevent such technology from damaging the state’s political integrity and protect residents from having their faces placed on pornographic content. The first bill’s sponsor, State Assemblyman Marc Berman, said in a statement, “In the face of total inaction at the federal level, California must step up to protect our more than 20 million voters. AB 730 will help deter nefarious deepfakes by holding accountable the bad actors who intentionally attempt to injure a candidate’s reputation or deceive voters into believing a candidate said or did something they never said or did.”

Alarms have been raised by analysts who say that deepfakes will be used as political weapons ahead of next year’s elections. Technologically manipulated human content can be as convincing as authentic content. A doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that gave the impression she was slurring her words went viral last May, showing how effective these types of videos can be to a political cause.

The California law follows a similar law passed in Texas last month. Texas was the first U.S. state to prohibit using deepfakes in relation to general elections. The state made the publication or distribution of a video within 30 days of an election of a political candidate “that appears to depict a real person performing an action that did not occur in reality” a misdemeanor crime. Violators could be punished by up to a year in jail.

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