(TNS) — Maine lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban the use of “deepfake” video technology in political advertising.

Supporters say the measure is needed because the technology can be used to manipulate and mislead voters, producing what one legislator called a “disastrous effect” on U.S. society and democracy. But critics countered that the bill was a threat to free speech.

Deepfakes videos are built with digitized images, using a form of artificial intelligence known as deep learning. The technology, which is increasingly available on the internet, can be used to produce videos, still images or audios that are highly convincing and often impossible to identify without the use of detection software.

The use of deepfake videos has been a growing concern for U.S. policy makers including in Congress, where prominent politicians have been smeared by its use, especially on social media sites where the videos can be broadly shared. U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, has also voiced concern over the use of the technology in politics.

“We are lucky to live in a society with technological advancements that past generations could have never imagined,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Millett, a Democrat from Cape Elizabeth, told the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday. But she also said that technological advancement could also be used to undermine the political process and public trust.

“It’s not hard to imagine how destructive this technology could be in an election,” Millett said.

Millet’s bill, L.D. 1988 would prohibit the use of deepfake video in a campaign 60 days before an election.

Although no one gave formal testimony against the measure during Wednesday’s public hearing, Republican members of the committee peppered Millett with questions centered around protection of free speech rights.

Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, quizzed Millett on several aspects of the bill, asking her at one point how the American Civil Liberties Union responded to a similar bill passed in California that Millett relied on as a model for her legislation.

Millett said she didn’t believe the ACLU had weighed in on the California measure, but Andrews read aloud a quote he attributed to Kevin Baker of the California ACLU.

“‘Despite the author’s good intention this bill will not solve the problem of deceptive political videos, it will only result in voter confusion, malicious litigation and suppression of free speech,'” Andrew read. “So, I don’t think they supported it.”

The ACLU of Maine did not testify on the Maine legislation, but the bill did gain the support of the League of Women Voters.

The Maine Association of Broadcasters offered neutral testimony, urging the committee to retain provisions in the bill that protected the use of deepfake material for illustrative purposes in news reporting.

The association also supports a provision in the bill that makes the creator of deepfake material – rather than the distributor – responsible for it when it’s used in political advertising.

Lawmakers also took testimony Wednesday on a bill that would change Maine’s Clean Election law by prohibiting a candidate who uses Clean Election funds to pay a consultant more than $10,000 from seeking employment with the consultant after the election.

The change was offered by Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth, who learned that former state Sen. Garrettt Mason, R-Lisbon, had paid a consulting firm more than $100,000 from the fund during his failed bid for the governor’s office in 2018. Mason later went to work for the firm.

©2020 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.