Deepfake videos pose challenge for lawmakers

Imagine someone creating a fake video of you showing you doing things you'd never do and saying things you'd never say. That technology is already a reality, and lawmakers are trying to figure out how to deal with it, especially with the implications for election interference.

The videos are known as "deepfakes."

"Like so many new technologies, this really first emerged in the pornography industry," said Aram Sinnreich, chair of the communications department at American University.

Sinnreich says "deepfake" become a buzzword after videos emerged that superimposed celebrities in adult films. But in the last year or two, it's gone far beyond that. He explains how the process works.

"If somebody wanted to deepfake me, they would take a couple minutes of video and audio from me," he said. "And they would feed that into a computer algorithm that analyzed how my mouth moves, how my voice changes and how my body moves when I speak."

Last year, director Jordan Peele and Buzzfeed teamed up to show what's possible, digitally manipulating an image of former President Barack Obama, his words coming from Peele.

"Without question, the ability to make deepfakes is going to be much easier and more widely proliferated with every year in the next decade," said Sinnreich.

It's a scary idea considering what's already possible. Currently, there are no laws on the books when it comes to deepfakes.

"The chaos that could happen out of this is really fairly significant," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va). "And this is a wide open area in terms of lack of any kind of regulation or lack of any kind of rules of the road."

Lawmakers like Warner are trying to navigate. On Capitol Hill, there have been recent efforts to criminalize maliciously creating or distributing deepfakes, but legislating this isn't an easy task.

"If this was a television station and you put up a fake image, you would be held liable," Warner said. "That is not the case if you see something on Facebook or see something on YouTube that is a fake image. The question is, how do you maintain the integrity of an open internet but also make sure that people are not manipulated?"

He says there are also concerns about how this could impact future elections. The disinformation campaign we saw in 2016, could come with fake videos in future meant to harm candidates.

"The problem is also the other side of the coin which is, we will not be able to trust real video," said Sinnreich. "So let's say that one of the candidates actually does something terrible. That candidate will be able to say credibly, 'Well, this wasn't really me. This didn't really happen. This is a deepfake.'"