A woman watches a deepfake of Trump and Obama

A woman in Washington, D.C., views a manipulated video on January 24, 2019, that changes what is said by former presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama, illustrating how deepfake technology can deceive viewers.

(Photo: Rob Lever/AFP via Getty Images)

'Intolerable,' Says Watchdog as FEC Promises Decision on Deepfake Rules By 'Early Summer'

"The comments from the FEC chair should sound the alarm for Congress and state legislators: You cannot count on the FEC to defend us from deepfakes," said one advocate. "It's up to you.”

Federal Election Commission Chairman Sean Cooksey pushed back on criticism this week that his agency is not taking necessary steps to stop political campaigns from using artificial intelligence-generated "deepfake" images in election ads—but a leading advocate said Thursday that Cooksey's defense sent one clear message: Americans can't "count on the FEC to defend us from deepfakes."

After Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy watchdog Public Citizen, said this week that the FEC "hasn't managed to use its existing authority to head off the problem," Cooksey, a Republican, told The Washington Post that the commission is "working on" the issue.

The top elections regulator said the FEC is "diligently reviewing the thousands of public comments submitted" regarding a proposed ban on the use of AI to deliberately misrepresent politicians' words and actions in campaign ads by producing "deepfake" videos, audio clips, and images.

Deepfakes have already been used by the campaigns of former Republican President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection and won his party's Iowa caucus this week, and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.

"There's no reason for the Federal Election Commission to stand idly by and risk fraud and fakery overwhelming election integrity."

Despite this, Cooksey told The Post that the FEC "will resolve the AI rulemaking by early summer"—after many state primaries are over.

"The FEC's slow-walking of the political deepfake issue threatens our democracy," Weissman said Thursday. "The schedule described by FEC Chair Cooksey means that, even if the agency decides to proceed with a rulemaking on deepfakes, it's not likely to have a rule out in time for the 2024 election. That's intolerable."

"There's no reason for the Federal Election Commission to stand idly by and risk fraud and fakery overwhelming election integrity," added Weissman. "However, there's still time for the agency to expedite its action and get a clear rule in place. It must do so."

Public Citizen submitted multiple petitions to the FEC last year before the commission finally announced in August that it would consider establishing new rules barring campaigns from using deepfakes, making it clear that laws prohibiting candidates from deceiving voters in ads also apply to AI.

Federal lawmakers including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have proposed legislation to ban deepfakes, but party leaders have not yet pushed for a vote on specific bills. The Democratic National Committee has also called on the FEC to take swift action on Public Citizen's petition, but the Republican National Committee has claimed the FEC does not have the authority to regulate AI in campaign ads.

Cooksey's latest remarks, said Weissman on Thursday, "should sound the alarm for Congress and state legislators" who have so far not succeeded in passing legislation to codify a ban on deepfakes in federal law.

"You cannot count on the FEC to defend us from deepfakes," said Weissman, addressing lawmakers. "It's up to you."

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