Election security at the heart of bills before Maryland General Assembly

Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis heard a cluster of bills designed to make certain that the election process is not subverted.

Del. Alice Cain, whose district includes Anne Arundel County, told the members of the Ways and Means Committee that “deepfakes” — doctored videos or images altered to make it appear the person depicted said or did something they did not — pose a threat to the election process.

Cain said she and members of her staff tested how simple it can be to produce a deepfake. She said that software that makes it possible to produce them is available on the internet for free.

“We downloaded it last night and produced a video seeming to show anyone of us saying or doing something we didn’t say or do,” Cain said.

Deepfakes were initially used in so-called revenge porn, when the face of someone is placed on video images of pornography as a way of blackmailing or embarrassing the victim, Cain said.

House Bill 198 would make it a misdemeanor to generate deepfakes that target a candidate online within 90 days of an election. The penalty could include a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in jail, or both.

Another bill would prohibit the State Board of Elections from approving a contract with an election service provider unless there is a clause in the contract requiring the provider to disclose to the election board if any part of the manufacturing process took place outside the United States.

Del. Samuel Rosenberg, whose district includes Baltimore City, told the panel that federal election security measures may have stalled on Capitol Hill, “but we certainly can take the action to further protect the integrity of our election system that would be provided for in our legislation.”

Other measures heard by the panel included one that would bar companies from downloading the personal information that donors provide when they give to a political campaign.

“The purpose of this bill is to protect those making a campaign contribution from their information being used for solicitation purposes,” Del. Alonzo Washington, who represents part of Prince George’s County, said.

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