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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arizona governor vetoes bill criminalizing AI deepfakes

The Democratic governor said she expects to sign a similar, less broad version of the bill.

PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs vetoed a bill that would establish criminal penalties for the creation and distribution of artificial intelligence-generated deepfakes, instead urging the state Senate on Wednesday to send her another bill she says “significantly overlaps with” the vetoed bill’s intent. 

Senate Bill 1336 would have prohibited the non-consensual dissemination of deepfake images of a person nude or engaging in sex acts, and established the crime as either a class 4 or class 6 felony, depending on intent, method of dissemination and impact on the victim. Republicans in both the House and the Senate unanimously supported the measure, but the Democratic vote was split down the middle in both chambers. 

A spokesperson for House Democrats said after a May 15 floor session that some members of the party voted against the bill because the American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against its potential impact on freedom of expression. 

ACLU Policy Director Darrell Hill said in a phone call with Courthouse News that the bill was too broad. 

“Our concern is that it criminalizes speech that’s protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution,” he said. “Particularly, political speech that’s satire.”

“We would have loved to see explicit language with SB1336 holding that those depictions are criminal when they are done with the intent to defraud or harass,” he added.

In her veto letter, Hobbs said she plans to sign Senate Bill 1078, which establishes similar penalties to SB1336 but includes nearly exactly the specific language Hill would have liked to see. She didn’t say in the letter whether she agrees with the ACLU’s position. She just wrote that SB1078 and other bills she’s signed would accomplish the same goals. 

Sponsored by state Senator John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, SB1078 passed both the House and the Senate nearly unanimously. It establishes a class 5 felony for the use of fake audio recordings, videos or images with the intent to harass or defraud the subject of the fake media. Though supported by both chambers, the bill hasn’t yet been transmitted to the governor for a signature. 

On the House floor on May 15, Republican state Representative David Cook of Globe shared the story of a mother who received a phone call with a fake audio recording of her daughter’s voice saying she’d been kidnapped. Strange men then got on the line and demanded money for the girl’s return. The daughter had been safe at school the entire time. 

“These things are not OK, and we have to take action today,” Cook told his fellow lawmakers as he voted “yes.”

Similar stories have recently arisen in Arizona and across the country

Alongside her Wednesday veto, Hobbs signed Senate Bill 1359, which requires the creator of a deepfake image or video depicting a political candidate to, within 90 days of an election, include a disclosure that the media includes content generated by artificial intelligence.

Creators who don’t include that disclosure will face a civil penalty of $10 per day for the first 15 days they don’t provide the disclosure, and $25 per day after that. The bill includes an exception for satire and parody.

State Senator Frank Carroll, a Republican from Sun City West and sponsor of both SB1336 and SB1359, didn’t immediately reply to an email request for comment. 

Last week, Hobbs signed another Republican-sponsored bill seeking to protect against deepfakes. House Bill 2394, sponsored by Republican state Senator Alex Kolodin of Scottsdale, will allow the subject of a false image or video recording to sue the creator if the deepfake was created without the subject’s consent, if the creator didn’t reasonably convey that the media is fake and if it’s unclear to the average viewer that it’s fake. 

According to the bill, a state judge can grant preliminary injunctive relief to a plaintiff if the plaintiff is a candidate in an election occurring in the next 180 days, if the deepfake depicts the person unclothed or engaging in sexual or criminal acts, if the person’s reputation will be irreparably harmed or if the person reasonably expects to suffer significant personal or financial hardship or loss of employment.

Like the other signed bills, HB2394 exempts internet service providers from liability for simply hosting a deepfake created and posted by a third party. 

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Categories / Government, Law, Regional, Technology

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