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Effort to regulate ‘deepfake’ political ads moves forward

Agency seeks public comment after deadlocking on request in June

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, speaks at the Collision 2023 conference in Toronto in June.
FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, speaks at the Collision 2023 conference in Toronto in June. (Carlos Osorio/Sportsfile for Collision/Getty Images)

The Federal Election Commission on Thursday voted to advance a nonpartisan advocacy group’s request for rules governing so-called deepfake political ads generated by artificial intelligence.

The commission will seek public comment starting next week and running for 60 days. After that, it will determine whether to take up a final rule.

Public Citizen, which petitioned for the new rule, said the need to regulate deepfakes has become urgent in advance of the 2024 election.

“Deepfakes pose a significant threat to democracy as we know it,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The FEC must use its authority to ban deepfakes or risk being complicit with an AI-driven wave of fraudulent misinformation and the destruction of basic norms of truth and falsity.”

Fifty members of Congress signed a letter urging the FEC to take up the matter.

“As the 2024 Presidential election quickly approaches, it is imperative that the FEC allow comment on Public Citizen’s petition for rulemaking,” the letter states.

This was Public Citizen’s second petition seeking FEC rules on AI-generated political ads, and Thursday’s vote was 6-0. In June, the commission deadlocked on the matter. The three Republican commissioners on the six-person panel voted against the request, saying the petition contained a technical omission. GOP Commissioner Allen Dickerson said the FEC does not have the power to regulate such ads and called on Congress to expand the FEC’s authority.

On Thursday, Dickerson said Public Citizen’s new petition complies with the regulations, and he voted to move the process forward. But he also said he remains unconvinced that setting such rules is within the commission’s purview.

Existing law “prohibits a person [from] fraudulently misrepresenting himself as acting for or on behalf of another candidate,” Dickerson said.

“There’s absolutely nothing special about deepfakes or generative AI, the buzzwords of the day,” he added. “It shouldn’t matter how the fraud is accomplished. Lying about someone’s private conversations, or posting a doctored document, or adding sound effects post-production, or manually airbrushing a photograph, if intended to deceive, would already violate our statute.”

Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner, supported moving to public comment on Public Citizen’s earlier petition and backed it this time as well.

“It’s obviously a topic that is very timely, very important,” she said. “I don’t pretend that the FEC can solve all of the problems that people are concerned about in the field of AI, but it is possible that we can solve some of them.”

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