Bipartisan group of senators targets deepfake revenge porn with new legislation

Ellis Barry woke up one day in her freshman year of high school to find deepfake intimate photos of her plastered across Snapchat. It took months, dozens of requests and a call from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for the photos to finally come down.

That might change soon.

On Tuesday, Cruz and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the Take It Down Act, which would require internet sites to take down deepfake revenge porn within 48 hours.

“If you don’t happen to be in a situation where a sitting member of Congress intervenes on your behalf, you get a closed door and stonewalled,” Cruz said at Tuesday’s press conference. “That is not fair, and that is not right. It should not take an elected member of Congress intervening to have these despicable lies pulled down from Snapchat.”

In a press conference Tuesday, Barry, her mother Anna McAdams; Dorota Mani, the mother of another victim of deepfake pornography; and leaders of three organizations focusing on sexual violence explained the importance of this law’s passage alongside Cruz and Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).

“It took eight and a half months to get those photos taken down because Snapchat did not care,” McAdams said. “This bill will give us a voice that we did not have.”

According to an analysis by Wired, 244,625 deepfake porn videos have been uploaded to some of the internet’s largest sites in the past seven years.

According to a 2019 report, 96 percent of deepfakes were nonconsensual sexual deepfakes, of which 99 percent featured women.

Almost every state has a law protecting people against revenge porn, and 20 states already have laws that explicitly cover artificial intelligence-generated deepfakes.

In 2022, Congress passed legislation that created a civil cause of action for victims to sue individuals who published revenge porn. However, this group of senators believes that civil action does not go far enough, with their statement releasing the bill calling civil action “time-consuming, expensive” and “impractical.”

The bill is backed by more than 30 interest groups, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, SAG-AFTRA, the National Organization for Women and IBM. It is co-sponsored by 11 other senators in addition to Cruz and Klobuchar.

During the press conference, Stefan Turkheimer, vice president of public policy at Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, spoke about a recent case where a U.S. Navy captain created a fake Facebook page of an ex-girlfriend, befriending most of her friends and colleagues, and then posted intimate photos of her. Facebook rejected more than 100 requests to take down the page because they said it seemed like an authentic page.

“When Facebook comes up here and says they’re working on the problem,” he said, “note that all their economic incentives are not to do anything at all, and that changes when this bill passes. I want to thank Senator Cruz and Senator Klobuchar for making the world of differences.”

This bill is one of three in the Senate related to deepfake revenge porn. Cruz said that his bill will “complement those bills” and “fill in gaps.” He added that he believes that his bill will pass through the Senate by the end of the year, and he hopes to bring it up for a Commerce Committee hearing soon. Cruz is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“I don’t think there’s an ideological divide on this,” Cruz told The Hill. “I don’t think there’s a partisan divide. Standing here today. I don’t know if the big tech companies will lobby against this or not. I hope they don’t. I hope they recognize this is an eminently commonsense step that frankly is what they should have done a long time ago.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill last week that would make it a criminal offense to intentionally share deepfake pornographic images and videos without consent. The criminal penalties would include a fine and up to two years in prison, while the civil penalties could be up to $150,000 in fines.

Earlier this year, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would allow victims of nonconsensual deepfakes to sue people who had created, distributed, held, or possessed the image.

Durbin tried to get a floor vote on his bill last week, but Lummis blocked the bill, saying that it was “broad in scope” and would “stifle American technological innovation.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, Lummis said that she had placed a hold on that bill because she hoped to work with Durbin in “tailoring language” to make the bill as “targeted” as possible.

Durbin’s bill was co-sponsored by Klobuchar and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The Take It Down Act introduced Tuesday is co-sponsored by Lummis and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Joe Manchin (I-W.Va.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

This story was first posted at 11:30 a.m.

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