Some Alabama lawmakers are already crafting bills to introduce during the 2024 legislative session, among them being Rep. Mike Shaw, R-Hoover, who is working on a number of bills targeting deepfake technology, false reporting of abductions and more.
Speaking with Alabama Daily News on Monday, Shaw said he’s working on a bill aimed at regulating deepfakes, which are digitally manipulated pieces of media, including videos of people speaking, that in many cases are indistinguishable from the real thing.
While digitally altered audio and video have existed for decades, recent advancements in AI technology have made creating deepfakes more accessible to the general public. A number of states have already passed laws regulating deepfakes, with Shaw arguing that Alabama should consider joining that list.
“It has tremendous opportunities for free expression and creativity, but I have significant concerns about deepfakes being used for misinformation,” Shaw told ADN.
“As this becomes more available to more people, can somebody create something that is slanderous, libelous, or creates harm to somebody’s character, or interferes with an election? We want to make sure that freedom of expression is protected, but also, humanity hasn’t faced something like this yet.”
Shaw said that while he normally prefers to be reactive in crafting legislation rather than proactive, the rapid development of AI technology was cause for getting “ahead of the curve” on this particular issue.
“You’re able to trust your eyes and ears to a certain extent, but we’re getting to a point where when you see something, the voices can be synthesized, the visuals can be synthesized, (and) you’ll be able to make it look like a person has said or done something totally different,” he said.
“The potential damage from this technology is such that I don’t know that we can wait, we need to go ahead and get ahead of the curve a little bit.”
Shaw said it was still too early to say specifically how the bill would target certain deepfake material, but that methods could include imposing criminal or civil penalties, or perhaps a mandate that certain deepfake material be labeled as such.
said that the biggest piece of legislation he’s currently working on is a bill that would impose stricter penalties on those who stage fake abductions. The bill, which also has a Senate version being craftedd by Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, is a response to the supposed kidnapping of Hoover resident Carlee Russell, who later confessed the incident as being a hoax.
“To me, when you have something like this, it creates significant public alarm, significant public expense, and really harms the health and safety of a community,” Shaw said.
“What happens when my daughter actually has a problem and reports something legit? The people that come to help – which is what we want (from) our society – might think twice next time.”
A resident of Hoover himself, Shaw said he saw the “significant” impact of Russell’s staged abduction in his community, and having served on the Hoover City Council for six years, heard first hand as to the amount of city resources devoted to search efforts. Resources, he said, that should be reserved for real emergencies should they occur.
“So you look at the expense, you look at the alarm it created, even safety issues… that goes beyond just a misdemeanor; you have created a significant impact, something along the lines of almost a bomb threat,” Shaw said.
“We don’t want to have any kind of chilling effects on somebody reporting a crime, but when somebody knowingly and willingly creates that chaos, that’s serious business and that should be a felony.”
School chaplains, safe disclosures
Shaw said another bill he was considering introducing would potentially see chaplains – certified clergy members that provide religious-based counseling – be placed in public schools. Alabama currently has a number of universities that employ chaplains for their sports teams, with some lawmakers having introduced legislation to enshrine protections for sports chaplains into law.
Were he to ultimately file it, Shaw’s bill could potentially extend similar protections to chaplains for public schools, something he said could be a resource for schools in lower-income areas.
“Obviously lots of schools are dealing with mental health care crises, but there might be some spiritual angles on that,” Shaw said.
“These are well-known guidelines we can follow for non-denominational and multi-faith chaplains that might help augment some schools’ efforts in that regard, particularly schools with fewer resources.”
Another bill Shaw said he may introduced would mandate that safes for firearms or valuables purchased in the state must also come with proper disclaimers related to access.
“People should be able to buy a safe and understand if there’s a backdoor in there (to access the safe),” Shaw said. “If you buy a safe, and they have a backdoor in it or an administrative code, they should disclose that at the time of retail sale, and they should disclose under which situations they would use that.”
The bill is a response to a recent incident in which an Arkansas man had his home raided by FBI agents who were given access to the man’s safe by its manufacturer, Liberty Safe. The incident sparked backlash in some circles, which in response, Liberty Safe announced it would only grant access to its safes to law enforcement if it received a subpoena.
Shaw’s bill would not regulate whether manufacturers could allow backdoor access to safes, but rather, mandate that safes with backdoor access come with disclosures stating as such.
“Some people may want one, some people may say ‘I’m forgetful, I lose my stuff and I need to be able to call a manufacturer and get help getting in,’” Shaw said.
“So we’re not going to try to get into the market, be big government and tell them what they can and can’t do, but the consumer should know just how safe it is.”