NJ is committed to regulating and policing AI and the harm caused by deepfakes

New Jersey lawmakers are attempting to regulate and police the use of artificial intelligence in some cases with a collection of bills that have prompted some Republicans to raise concerns about the potential harm to free speech.

The state Assembly Judiciary Committee Thursday voted along party lines to advance three Democrat-sponsored bills aimed at criminalizing the creation and distribution of deceptive media known as deepfakes.

One of the measures (A5511) would ban the creation or dissemination of deceptive audio or visual media under certain circumstances, while a second bill (A5510) would criminalize the distribution of intentionally deceptive media within 90 days of an election.

Deep down, people from all walks of life believe in the truth and are tired of being misled and deceived, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald D-Camden, a sponsor of the bill, told NJ Advance Media.

The bills are meant to address the potential harm from the misuse of technology beyond simple election interference, according to Greenwald, who highlighted a custody battle in which AI-generated deepfakes were used to portray an ex-spouse in a negative light, in a violent light.

We have to come down hard on cases like this, Greenwald said.

Both Republican members of the committee abstained from voting on the two measures and expressed concerns about a possible violation of free speech.

Not that I agree with what these people are doing, Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergen, said during the hearing at the Trenton Statehouse. I just want to make sure we don’t publish something that gets shot down by the courts.

Greenwald disputed the free speech argument, adding that it is our responsibility to write the laws and that the courts will interpret them.

No one should have the right to take someone else’s likeness and try to trick residents, voters into thinking that one of their elected officials or candidates is representing an opinion that is not theirs, Greenwald said.

The use of synthetic audio and video and their potential harm have been a concern since at least the 1990s, but rapid advances in machine learning and other sophisticated technologies have forced state and federal legislators to catch up in addressing complex issues that remain largely unregulated.

Deepfake technology is already being used to influence and potentially mislead voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election, which will include a former president federally indicted on the campaign trail for the first time in US history. A federal grand jury has indicted former President Donald Trump, the Republican leader in the presidential race, on charges related to mishandling of confidential documents.

The Republican National Committee in April used artificial intelligence to create a political advertisement that depicted fake international crises and other fictional calamities in a fictional second term for President Joe Biden.

Deepfake images of Trump in handcuffs and scuffles with police have flooded social media. And AI-generated images of Trump in a prison suit have been used as examples in legislation advanced by the Assembly committee, according to Auth.

A third measure (A5512) approved by the committee on Thursday would create a Deep Fake Technology unit in the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. The state attorney general will establish the new unit in consultation with the chief technology officer of the New Jersey Office of Information Technology.

Victoria Flynn MP R-Monmouth expressed unease at giving the government the ability to assess what speech is deepfake and what is not.

Until I learn something more that suggests we should have government evaluating speech, which I think will be a big burden to prove, I am against this bill, Flynn said.

Greenwald said the point of the legislation is missing and the new unit would not be created to determine what a deepfake is.

It was created to help keep up with technology and advanced AI to identify those situations where a deepfake is perpetrated, Greenwald said. They won’t be the judge and jury, but they will be able to create the tools and technology to keep up with the times.

All three measures still need to pass both houses of the Democrat-controlled state legislature and be signed by Governor Phil Murphy to become law.

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Derek Sala can be reached at dhall@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @dereknhall.

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