Morelle pushes to make it illegal to share AI-generated ‘deepfake’ intimate images online

Posted 6 May 2023 at 7:44 am

Press Release, Congressman Joe Morelle

Congressman Joe Morelle of Rochester announced he has authored and introduced legislation to protect the right to privacy online amid a rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and digitally-manipulated content.

The Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act would make illegal the non-consensual sharing of altered or “deepfake” intimate images online and create additional legal courses of action for those impacted.

“The spread of A.I.-generated and altered images can cause irrevocable emotional, financial, and reputational harm—and unfortunately, women are disproportionately impacted,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “As artificial intelligence continues to evolve and permeate our society, it’s critical that we take proactive steps to combat the spread of disinformation and protect individuals from compromising situations online. I’m proud to have introduced this legislation that takes common-sense steps to protect their privacy, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass it into law.”

With advancements in technology and artificial intelligence has come the emergence of “deepfakes”—digitally altered images that use an individual’s likeness mapped onto a photo or video of someone else. A 2019 report found that 96 percent of deepfake videos online were pornographic in content and exclusively targeted women. While the videos are fake, their impacts are very real—and until now, little has been done to provide women with protection or recourse from this disturbing phenomenon.

In March 2022, President Biden signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization Act, a bipartisan law taking significant steps to address domestic violence. The VAWA Reauthorization included provisions to empower individuals victimized by the non-consensual disclosure of their intimate visual images to seek civil penalties in federal court. However, these provisions did not include the same protections for those impacted by the disclosure of deepfakes, leaving individuals vulnerable to exploitation by these images.

 To address this issue, Congressman Morelle introduced the Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act, which would:

  • Prohibit the non-consensual disclosure of digitally altered intimate images and make the sharing of these images a criminal offense;
  • Ensure that an individual’s consent to create the image does not establish consent for the sharing or disclosure of the image;
  • Create a right of private action for victims to seek relief;
  • Provide additional protections to preserve a plaintiff’s anonymity in civil actions.

“This bill will help curb an incredibly destructive practice that strikes at the heart of personal privacy, safety and autonomy,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said. “Sexual abuse, whether occurring physically or digitally, should never be excused or permitted as ‘personal expression’, and it should never be tolerated. Deepfakes are violations, objectification and exploitation, and must be made illegal and punishable by law. This bill is a powerful step to ensure that this technology is not used to cause harm. If we continue to spiral into an abyss where we fail to discern between what is real and what is not real, we are looking at a future far more dangerous than sexual exploitation and objectification.”

Congressman Morelle has worked closely with SAG-AFTRA and other stakeholders to craft this legislation, and he looks forward to continuing to work together with these supporting organizations to enact these important protections into law.

 “The unauthorized creation and distribution of digitally manipulated intimate images, like other forms of image-based sexual abuse, can cause severe and often irreparable psychological, reputational, and professional harm,” said Dr. Mary Anne Franks, President and Legislative & Tech Policy Director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. “The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative welcomes the Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act as an important effort to deter this form of sexual exploitation that disproportionately targets women and girls.”