Georgia House targets artificial intelligence ‘deepfakes’ in political ads of candidates

Legislation that criminalizes the use of “deepfakes” generated by artificial intelligence to impersonate candidates in political campaign ads cleared the Georgia House of Representatives Thursday.

House Bill 986, which passed 148-22, creates the crime of fraudulent election interference. Anyone who knowingly perpetrates a political deepfake within 90 days of an election would face two to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

“We want to protect good political free speech,” Rep. Brad Thomas, R-Holly Springs, the bill’s chief sponsor, said on the House floor before Thursday’s vote. “But fraud is not protected speech.”

The legislation applies to “materially deceptive” video or audio deepfakes but carves out exceptions including satire, parody, artistic expression and journalism. It also allows deepfakes to be used in campaign ads as long as they acknowledge the candidate is being impersonated and the events depicted may not have occurred.

Nonetheless, the bill drew objections that it would violate free speech rights. Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock, compared it to the Patriot Act Congress passed in 2001 following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C.

“This bill is an affront to our First Amendment rights,” Byrd said. “In the process of providing security, you abolish liberty.”

But the measure’s supporters said deliberately spreading false information during a political campaign is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“How can we have election integrity without knowing what the candidates are truly saying?” said Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, chairman of the House Technology and Infrastructure Innovation Committee, which approved the bill last week. “Don’t we want truth in advertising?”

The legislation now heads to the state Senate.