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Pennsylvania Bill Would Prohibit AI in Political Campaigns

Two newly introduced bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature would prohibit the use of artificial intelligence to impersonate political candidates in campaign literature and advertising.

(TNS) — Two newly introduced bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature would prohibit the use of artificial intelligence, AI, to impersonate political candidates in campaign literature and advertising.

Senate Bill 1217, introduced on May 21 by state Sen. Tracy Pennycuick, R-Berks and Montgomery counties, would impose civil penalties on creators of AI-manipulated campaign videos, images, texts and sounds. The legislation was preceded by companion House Bill 2353, co-sponsored by state Reps Tarik Khan, D-Philadelphia, and Rob Mercuri, R-Allegheny.

Pennycuick, who chairs the Senate Communications & Technology Committee, said Bill 1217 was prompted by the use of robocalls targeting New Hampshire Democratic voters in January. Those calls featured an AI impersonation of President Joe Biden's voice and discouraged recipients from voting in the state's presidential primary.

"[The Biden robocalls] opened our eyes to a lot of the bad parts of AI," Pennycuick said. "We really thought it is important to make sure that candidates can have some confidence that they're not going to be replicated in a way that influences an election."

In April, a robocall featuring the AI-generated voice of state Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Bradford and Tioga counties, asked constituents for their credit card information under the guise of collecting donations for the police department. Mercuri credits both this local instance of AI impersonation and the Biden robocalls with inspiring the bill he and Khan introduced.

The bills propose penalties up to $250,000 for AI impersonations of presidential or congressional candidates in the 90 days leading up to an election. AI ads that impersonate state and municipal candidates would incur up to $50,000 and $15,000 fines, respectively.

Unlike statutes in Florida and Mississippi, Pennycuick noted the Pennsylvania bills would solely impose civil, rather than criminal, penalties. That should allow for a quicker resolution in the courts.

"I think it's very important that [candidates] can take quick action and see quick results in civil courts," she said. "You're talking about election integrity here, so you want to be able to nip it in the bud very, very quickly with a civil injunction."

Mercuri said the legislators chose hefty penalties to make it apparent that AI interference in elections is "very inappropriate and very damaging." State Sen. John Kane, D-Chester and Delaware counties and co-sponsor of Bill 1217, said the authors "shot high" with the expectation that the civil penalties may be lowered in subsequent drafts of the bills.

Yet Justin Brody, assistant professor of computer science at Franklin & Marshall College, expressed concern that the penalties may be too lenient.

"If I'm running a presidential campaign, and that's the penalty for [using AI], I think it's totally worth the risk," he said. "Just as a game theory way of looking at it, it seems like it's not enough."

Both Brody and Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at Campaign Legal Center, underscored the rapidity of AI developments.

"It's incredibly easy for somebody with an even small amount of money to put together [disinformation] using AI tools and have quite an impact," Ghosh said.

Brody noted the recent proliferation of AI models. In 2023, investment in generative AI surpassed $25 billion, compared to $2.85 billion invested in 2022.

"It's almost like somebody said, 'Okay, let's give the blueprints for nuclear weapons to everyone. Let's just put them online, and anybody can have this technology,'" Brody said. "I don't know how to regulate something like that."

Mercuri and Pennycuick acknowledged that technology far outpaces policy and emphasized that the bills are a starting point for Pennsylvania's AI election regulations.

"We have to be very observant and vigilant to make sure that as legislators, we are on top of these new technologies and we're creating the correct guardrails for our society," Mercuri said.

Kane, Mercuri and Pennycuick emphasized their bills have bipartisan support and have not encountered any opposition so far.

"As elected members of the Legislature, we've all run campaigns and know how damaging disinformation can be to good governance, and so I think there'll be strong support," Mercuri said.

Pennycuick said she anticipates her bill could pass the state Senate later this month or in early July.

The bills are part of a nationwide push for AI regulations in politics. Sixteen states have passed statutes prohibiting or requiring the disclosure of AI in political campaigns.

Last month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration advanced three AI election bills that would ban use of AI for deceptive political messaging, require disclosure of other uses and provide guidelines to state and local election administrators on how to assess AI's impact on elections.

© 2024 LNP (Lancaster, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.