Deepfakes are a threat to national security, say lawmakers

The artificial intelligence tool infamous for porn forgeries is now a threat to democracy.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
2 min read
Director Of Nat'l Intelligence Daniel Coats Testifies To Senate Armed Services Committee On Worldwide Threats

Lawmakers sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats asking him what threats deepfakes pose to democracy.

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Deepfakes are a deep concern for Congress. 

Three representatives in the House want to know what the US intelligence community is doing to address "deepfakes," videos using artificial intelligence to fabricate realistic clips and images of people. The technology became infamous after people began using it to insert celebrity's faces into pornographic videos on Reddit.  

In the letter dated Thursday, the bipartisan group asks Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats how to stop the machine learning-powered forgeries, citing national security concerns. The letter was signed by Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California; Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida; and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida.

"You have repeatedly raised the alarm about disinformation campaigns in our elections and other efforts to exacerbate political and social divisions in our society to weaken our nation," the letter writes. "We are deeply concerned that deep fake technology could soon be deployed by malicious foreign actors." 

The letter come as nation-states continue to ramp up efforts to spread misinformation on social media, whether it's through spreading hoaxes and fake outrage or posing as activist groups. In a video from BuzzFeed and filmmaker and actor Jordan Peele, he demonstrated how easy it is to forge a convincing video of former US President Barack Obama. 

Watch this: Senate takes on deep fakes with Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey

During a Senate hearing with Facebook and Twitter on Sept. 5, Sens. Angus King, a Maine independent, and James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, asked Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about what the social network is doing to address deepfakes. She said Facebook is investing in technology to address the threat. 

The House representatives also worry in the letter that people will use deepfakes for blackmail. 

"As deep fake technology becomes more advanced and more accessible, it could pose a threat to United States public discourse and national security, with broad and concerning implications for offensive active measures campaigns targeting the United States," the letter said. 

The letter asks for Coats to provide a report to Congress by Dec. 14 on how foreign governments are using the AI, if the US government has technology to detect it, and what actions lawmakers should take to stop the spread of deepfakes.

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