House Intel chair sounds alarm in Congress’ first hearing on deepfake videos

WASHINGTON D.C. — America is on the “cusp of a technological revolution” that could enable sinister forms of deception that have not been seen before, Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday morning as his committee kicked off Congress’ first hearing on the emerging disinformation threat of deepfakes.

Advances in artificial intelligence, Schiff said, “have led to the emergence of advanced digitally doctored types of media, so-called ‘deepfakes,’ that enable malicious actors to foment chaos, division or crisis and they have the capacity to disrupt entire campaigns, including that for the presidency.”

Experts are concerned that deepfake technology is developing so rapidly that it may soon be almost impossible for viewers to spot that a video is fake.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned earlier this year that the technology could be used by America’s adversaries in future disinformation campaigns.

The House Intelligence Committee heard from four experts in artificial intelligence and disinformation Thursday morning.

In his questions to the expert panel, Schiff alluded to one of the possible dilemmas facing the US government. “What is a proportionate response should the Russians release a deepfake of Joe Biden to try to diminish his candidacy?” Schiff asked.

The hearing didn’t hear only about risks to the government and to democracy. One of the witnesses, Danielle Citron, a professor of law at the University of Maryland, warned of the potential threat deepfakes could pose to corporate America.

“Imagine the night before a company’s Initial Public Offering, a deepfake video appears showing the CEO committing a crime. If the deepfake video is shared widely, the company’s stock price may falter and a tremendous amount of money may be lost. Of course, the video could be debunked in a few days, but by that time the damage has already been done,” Citron said in her prepared statement to the committee.

Schiff, who called the hearing, said earlier this month that he feared that Russia could engage in a “severe escalation” of its disinformation campaign targeting the United States as the 2020 US presidential election approaches.

“And the most severe escalation might be the introduction of a deep fake — a video of one of the candidates saying something they never said,” Schiff said.

He also noted that while the doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that went viral on social media last month was not a deepfake, it was an example of how manipulated media could be used

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