Sharing deepfake porn could lead to lengthy prison time under proposed law

Fake nudes, real harms —

Teen “shouting for change” after fake nude images spread at NJ high school.


The US seems to be getting serious about criminalizing deepfake pornography after teen boys at a New Jersey high school used AI image generators to create and share non-consensual fake nude images of female classmates last October.

On Tuesday, Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-NY) announced that he has re-introduced the “Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act,” which seeks to “prohibit the non-consensual disclosure of digitally altered intimate images.” Under the proposed law, anyone sharing deepfake pornography without an individual’s consent risks damages that could go as high as $150,000 and imprisonment of up to 10 years if sharing the images facilitates violence or impacts the proceedings of a government agency.

The hope is that steep penalties will deter companies and individuals from allowing the disturbing images to be spread. It creates a criminal offense for sharing deepfake pornography “with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, alarm, or cause substantial harm to the finances or reputation of the depicted individual” or with “reckless disregard” or “actual knowledge” that images will harm the individual depicted. It also provides a path for victims to sue offenders in civil court.

Rep. Tom Kean (R-NJ), who co-sponsored the bill, said that “proper guardrails and transparency are essential for fostering a sense of responsibility among AI companies and individuals using AI.”

“Try to imagine the horror of receiving intimate images looking exactly like you—or your daughter, or your wife, or your sister—and you can’t prove it’s not,” Morelle said. “Deepfake pornography is sexual exploitation, it’s abusive, and I’m astounded it is not already a federal crime.”

Joining Morelle in pushing to criminalize deepfake pornography was Dorota and Francesca Mani, who have spent the past two months meeting with lawmakers, The Wall Street Journal reported. The mother and daughter experienced the horror Morelle described firsthand when the New Jersey high school confirmed that 14-year-old Francesca was among the students targeted last year.

“What happened to me and my classmates was not cool, and there’s no way I’m just going to shrug and let it slide,” Francesca said. “I’m here, standing up and shouting for change, fighting for laws, so no one else has to feel as lost and powerless as I did on October 20th.”

Morelle’s office told Ars that “advocacy from partners like the Mani family” is “critical to bringing attention to this issue” and getting the proposed law “to the floor for a vote.”

Morelle introduced the law in December 2022, but it failed to pass that year or in 2023. He’s re-introducing the law in 2024 after seemingly gaining more support during a House Oversight subcommittee hearing on “Advances in Deepfake Technology” last November.

At that hearing, many lawmakers warned of the dangers of AI-generated deepfakes, citing a study from the Dutch AI company Sensity, which found that 96 percent of deepfakes online are deepfake porn—the majority of which targets women.

But lawmakers also made clear that it’s currently hard to detect AI-generated images and distinguish them from real images.

According to a hearing transcript posted by the nonprofit news organization Tech Policy Press, David Doermann—currently interim chair of the University at Buffalo’s computer science and engineering department and former program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—told lawmakers that DARPA was already working on advanced deepfake detection tools but still had more work to do.

To support laws like Morelle’s, lawmakers have called for more funding for DARPA and the National Science Foundation to aid in ongoing efforts to create effective detection tools. At the same time, President Joe Biden—through a sweeping AI executive order—has pushed for solutions like watermarking deepfakes. Biden’s executive order also instructed the Department of Commerce to establish “standards and best practices for detecting AI-generated content and authenticating official content.”

Morelle is working to push his law through in 2024, warning that deepfake pornography is already affecting a “generation of young women like Francesca,” who are “ready to stand up against systemic oppression and stand in their power.”

Until the federal government figures out how to best prevent the sharing of AI-generated deepfakes, Francesca and her mom plan to keep pushing for change.

“Our voices are our secret weapon, and our words are like power-ups in Fortnite,” Francesca said. “My mom and I are advocating to create a world where being safe isn’t just a hope; it’s a reality for everyone.”

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Ashley Belanger