“We have a medium in which lies and fear travel faster than anything else and this has happened practically overnight,” said Schiff during a two-hour panel discussion at union headquarters in Los Angeles.
“I am deeply concerned that deep-fakes could be used to spread disinformation or interfere in our elections, and we have already seen these technologies used to harass, exploit and invade the privacy of private citizens, particularly women,” said Schiff. “We have another election coming up and it’s more important than ever for the public to distinguish between what is real and what is fake. Our democracy depends on it.”
Union member Alyssa Milano said she’s been attacked with lies due to her politics, resulting in a loss of income. “Nobody is policing anything so it gives people the ability to discredit my political activism,” she added.
Heidi Johanningmeier told of her likeness being included without permission in sex scenes that were posted on the Mister Skin site, resulting in lasting damage to her reputation for more than a decade.
“It was interesting how quickly that people forgot that I did not give my consent,” Johanningmeier said. “I left Los Angeles because of it and now I act out of Chicago.”
“We need to care about what happens to women in deep fake technology because they are the canaries in the coal mine,” said Mary Anne Franks, president, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and professor at Miami Law School.
Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, indicated that he is considering formulating federal legislation.
SAG-AFTRA has been backing legislation by Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) that bans the creation and dissemination of digitally created sex scenes and nude performances without consent. The union is also supporting a New York bill that would establish these same rights in a commercial misappropriation bill.
Schiff and several other experts warned during Monday’s event that deep-fake technology has progressed to the point that it’s become a threat to democracy — particularly with President Trump’s constant attacks on “fake news.”
“We are already in an environment where the truth is under attack,” he added. “I can’t imagine anything more corrosive to democracy. ‘Fake’ has become a term that has been degraded to connote something that you don’t like.”
He added that foreign attempts in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election are now originating domestically. “The potential for disruption is exponentially greater,” Schiff said.
Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert and professor at UC Berkeley, said that corporations need to be more responsible about not supporting deep-fake technologies and added that platforms such as Twitter need to be more vigilant about not allowing false narratives and hate speech.
“There are 20 CEOs in the world who could stop this,” Farid added. “Jack Dorsey (Twitter CEO) needs to get his head out of his ass.”
Colleen Williams, NBC4 anchor, moderated the event. SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris opened by saying that non-consensual deep-fakes are an emerging threat.
“It has a significant impact on actors, broadcasters and recording artists but it is also an attack on our democracy,” she added. “Deepfakes technology not only steals our images, but potentially harms our reputations and our careers. Equally damaging is the potential harm it can cause to broadcasters and reporters whose voice and image can be manipulated to create a false narrative.”