Cantwell Says Federal Privacy Legislation Key to Addressing AI Scams And Misuse Concerns for Consumers

September 12, 2023

Cantwell also plans to introduce legislation to combat deepfakes to protect national security and consumers

Last month, Cantwell called for a new G.I. bill for AI education to help reskill workers for jobs of the future


During a subcommittee hearing today on transparency in artificial intelligence, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said strong and enforceable federal privacy protections for consumers are key to combat scams, misuse of personal data and to prevent bias and discrimination in artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Sen. Cantwell also said she would be introducing separate legislation to combat deepfakes to protect consumers and national security, stop potential disruptions of interstate commerce and protect civil liberties and First Amendment rights.

“We know that we have choices here. We know we want to continue to empower consumers and make sure that we’re stopping the fraudsters,” Sen. Cantwell said.And we want to make sure that any misuse of AI – that we are stopping that – and whatever we can do to make sure that we are protecting American’s privacy.”

Rapid developments in AI applications have the potential to transform our economy but also pose new risks to consumers. Deepfakes have been on the rise and use AI-generated text, photos or voices to impersonate loved ones and scam consumers.

Sen. Cantwell recalled a recent deepfake scamming incident involving a family from Pierce Country, Washington, in which, the senator explained, “a scammer used AI to spoof the voice of their daughter telling them that she had been in a car accident and that a man was threatening to harm her if they didn’t wire $10,000.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, has led the way in developing approaches for detecting AI-generated media. These capabilities could provide the foundation for new commercial industry that helps defend against AI-enabled information attacks. Both detection technologies, like those that DARPA developed, and provenance watermarking technology are essential in order to protect national security and interstate commerce.

“DARPA is leading the way on important developments to approach detecting AI-generated media,” Sen. Cantwell said, adding that she will soon introduce legislation to detect and combat deepfakes.

Sen. Cantwell used today’s hearing as an opportunity to inform a legislative framework by discussing ways the federal government could drive innovation and maintain U.S. leadership and global competitiveness in AI security-related technology, discover ideas about deepfakes and potential national security issues, protect online privacy and combat discrimination.

“I believe there's a number of steps the federal government can take,” Sam Gregory, Executive Director of WITNESS, told Sen. Cantwell. The first is to have a strong understanding of the existing harms and impacts and really be able to understand where to prioritize with groups who are impacted. That includes harms we know already, like non-consensual sexual images, but also the growing number of scams. The second area would be to … come up with a standardized way for people to understand both AI provenance and opt-in human-generated provenance. The third would be to focus on detection … So continued investment from DARPA and others to really resource and support in diverse circumstances.”

Sen. Cantwell also suggested international cooperation with like-minded allies is important to combatting deepfakes.

Sen. Cantwell was instrumental in creating the National AI Advisory Committee (NAIAC). The FUTURE of AI Act, which passed through the National AI Initiative Act of 2020 and was included in the FY2021 NDAA, tasked the Secretary of Commerce to create a Federal Advisory Committee on the Development and Implementation of Artificial Intelligence. The Department of Commerce appointed members to the NAIAC in April 2022 and the Committee released its first report in April of this year. Sen. Cantwell was a key architect of the CHIPS and Science Act that identified AI as one of the 10 key technology focus areas and established an AI scholarship-for-service program. 

View Sen. Cantwell’s transcript here and video here.