TRENTON — An Assembly committee Monday endorsed two bills aimed at combating realistic “deepfake” videos created by artificial intelligence, including one that specifically bans one aimed at political candidates within two months of an election.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Middlesex, said the bills are needed to “help people distinguish between what is real and what is fabricated. Because soon these deep fakes will make it impossible for someone to know whether the person in the video actually said or did what was shown in that video.”

One bill, A3006, requires anyone who produces a “deepfake” with the intent to distribute the record online or who has the knowledge that the record is to be so distributed would be subject to disclosure requirements indicating its altered audio or visual elements.

The other bill, A4985, says that unless the manipulated content is disclosed, a person or entity would be prohibited from distributing such a video within 60 days of any election at which a candidate for elective public office would appear on the ballot. A candidate could sue to block the video and recover damages.

“To me, this is critically, critically important. There is so much distrust already of what is truthful, and soon we’ll have people going, ‘I don’t even know if a video is something I can be certain of,’” Zwicker said.

“Imagine a video of a candidate for office manipulated in such a way that you can no longer tell what is real and what is not,” he said. “What does that mean for our democracy? What does that mean for elections that are already so fragile?”

The Republicans on the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee opposed the election-connected bill.

“This bill implicates some First Amendment speech protections, and I’m concerned about violations of the First Amendment around this bill,” said Assemblyman Chris DePhillips, R-Bergen.

“I believe that the Legislature should not be in the business of voting on bills that are quite clearly unconstitutional. And this bill, while perhaps well-intentioned, certainly appears to be in direct conflict with the First Amendment,” said Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, R-Morris. “That’s why the ACLU and others have raised alarms about it in other states.

“I’ve run in tough elections and been targeted by opposition ads that I’ve thought were unfair and untrue and really hard. But I dealt with them,” she said. “But that’s for candidates and voters to sort out, not a place for the federal or state government to come in with a heavy hand and restrict the rights of speech so critical to our basic freedoms.”

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, said there’s a difference between a heated political campaign and fraudulent, manipulated videos that look genuine.

“I think we all have thick skin. And if we were assailing speech that’s tough on us in the course of an election cycle, I’d feel differently,” Mukherji said. “But deepfakes and the type of thing, the type of conduct that we’re looking to curb here, I think is being done in a thoughtful way, and I appreciate the consideration that went into the bill.”

The New Jersey Press Association testified against both bills. Lauren James-Weir, its lobbyist and co-counsel, said that requirements that media organizations affix watermarks and other disclosures isn’t consistent with the First Amendment because “that editorial judgment and control cannot be impinged by government regulation, consistent with the First Amendment.”

“The newspapers and certainly our members are not in the business of disseminating these deep fakes. Truth is what our papers aim for every day,” James-Weir said. “So it is not something that they would use their editorial discretion to perpetuate.”

The Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee also advanced a bill that would impose a moratorium on the collection of biometric identifiers by public entities, although that proposed seemed likely to undergo more changes before it would be approved.

“Technology is not by its very nature good or bad. It’s what we do with it and how we use it,” Zwicker said.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Where to get COVID-19 vaccine in NJ