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Sen. Josh Hawley doubts Congress will act on AI deepfakes: “Tech companies, they always get their way here”
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Sen. Josh Hawley doubts Congress will act on AI deepfakes: “Tech companies, they always get their way here”

Ep. 5 — Sen. Josh Hawley (1-23-2024)
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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Hawley’s asked

So do you think there’s time this year for AI legislation?

Key Hawley

“Time? Yes. Willingness? No,” Hawley replies.

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“Tech companies, they always get their way here”

“I don’t get it. I don’t understand why these companies, these tech companies, they always get their way here. It’s all the same people. It’s Microsoft. It’s Google. It’s Meta. And they always say: ‘We’re for guardrails’ but they never are. Unless they write them, and then if they write them (inaudible). Take our Section 230 bill. It’s like the most modest bill. It just says that somebody can get into court if their image or likeness is used, they’re a victim of AI technology, if they’re a victim of a prank phone call, I guess, they can sue a company that helped a perpetrate it. But oh no, the companies are dead set against it.”

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DEEPER DIVE: This interview helped inform Matt Laslo’s reporting for this feature: ‘Abuse’: Politicians are fretting about AI stealing their faces and voices

LISTEN: Laslo & Hawley

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Below find a rough transcript of Ask a Pol’s exclusive interview with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), slightly edited for clarity.

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TRANSCRIPT: Laslo & Hawley

Reporter: “I guess the kind of question is does [the fake Biden robocall in New Hampshire] kind of increase the sense of urgency for the bill that you guys have, the AI and deepfake bill?”

Josh Hawley: “Yeah, because we’re going to see — my prediction is we’re going to see a lot of this stuff. We’re going to see videos too. The voice is bad, but the videos are going to be really bad. Because they're at a point — and I'm sure you all have seen these videos — they're really realistic, you can’t tell the difference, a lot of them now. They're going to get better and better and better, more and more quickly, and when you add the voice with the video, I mean, it's gonna be impossible to tell. People are not going to know. So, no, I think we need to, this is an area where we need to act. Congress needs to take action.”

Matt Laslo: “But it feels like after all of last year’s forums and everything, there was no impetus to act?”

JH: “All those forums, they were critical!”

Hawley laughs.

ML: “Right?”

JH: “That really built momentum! Yeah, it’s important to have all those cocktail parties with all of the biggest companies in the world, because they always want us to take action. No, those were a total joke, let’s be honest.”

Reporter: “But you’ve been pushing for consequences to AI, and so, do you feel, are you expecting that there will be some sort of lawsuit or anything?”

JH: “Oh, lawsuit? Oh, I hope so. But well, but here’s the problem, you can’t sue them, because they say they’re immune under Section 230. So lo and behold, they now say: ‘Oh, we’re immune.’”

Reporter: “That would apply to some social media companies doing this, but the actors who are involved in it?”

JH: “Oh, the individuals?”

Reporter: “Yeah.”

JH: “I mean, can you find them? Yes, sure, if you can find them, and, I mean, good luck. But the technology, the platforms on which it’s disseminated, you know, that’s where you want to get access to. I mean, listen, I’d love to sue the actors. I’d love to sue em all. But we need a change in legislation to make it clear that AI companies cannot hide behind Section 230 and we need to pass our elections bill.”

Reporter: “And who is opposing your bill?”

JH: “Well, the companies. I mean, when I went to the floor — I mean, my own party opposes it. I mean, I tried to pass that before the Sen. [Ted] Cruz objected. But I mean, yeah, go ahead.”

Reporter: “No, no, I mean, I guess I can talk to Sen. Cruz about why, but I mean — did you try to talk to him about it?”

JH: “Yes, oh, we have an interesting back-and-forth on the floor about it. And I don’t want to speak for him, I have a lot of respect for Ted. But I just think that — I don’t get it. I don’t understand why these companies, these tech companies, they always get their way here. It’s all the same people. It’s Microsoft. It’s Google. It’s Meta. And they always say: ‘We’re for guardrails’ but they never are. Unless they write them, and then if they write them (inaudible). Take our Section 230 bill. It’s like the most modest bill. It just says that somebody can get into court if their image or likeness is used, they’re a victim of AI technology, if they’re a victim of a prank phone call, I guess, they can sue a company that helped a perpetrate it. But oh no, the companies are dead set against it.”

Reporter: “So do you think there’s time this year for AI legislation?”

JH: “Time? Yes. Willingness? No.”

Reporter: “That’s the issue of willingness, not time?”

JH: “Sen. Schumer had all of these, I call em cocktail parties with these companies, vowing action, action, action. Here we are, he’s put exactly nothing on the floor. Sen. [Richard] Blumenthal and I have bipartisan bills they could put on the floor. Sen. [Amy] Klobuchar and I have bipartisan bills…”

Reporter: “So is [your] election [bill] still a priority for Schumer or not? Do you know? Have you heard anything? He said that election AI legislation is a priority this year.”

JH: “That’s just talk. I’ll believe it when I see it. We had antitrust bills that we voted out of committee on a bipartisan basis in the last Congress, and he didn’t touch them. They were bills — for two full years and he didn’t put them on the floor. I don’t think he’s going to. I would expect nothing from him because these companies are extremely powerful and wealthy and influential.”

Reporter: “So what has to happen? Some lawsuits? They have to lose big in the courts and then that’s what’s going to change the dynamic?”

JH: “Well, one of the problems though is that you can’t sue them.” 

Reporter: “But there are pending lawsuits…”

JH: “There are pending lawsuits, and there are some on social media too. But, in general, these folks are going to win these lawsuits because they use Section 230. So what’s going to have to happen is probably public outrage. That’s what’s going to have to happen, and that’s what they ask for. People like me are going to continue to have to go to the floor, which I’m going to do, and bring up these bills, and make people come and object.”

Reporter: “So when’s your next vote on the floor?”

JH: “Hopefully soon. I think that current circumstances suggest we should do it soon.”

Reporter: “There’s also been some discussion about, even at the FEC, provisions with the FEC, having the FEC enforce some of these things more, which is very relevant to this crisis. Do you think there’s room for that?”

JH: “I think start with the bill. Start with the bill I have with Sen. Klobuchar…”

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Matt Laslo covers tech politics for WIRED, lectures on technology’s impact on government at Johns Hopkins and is the founder of Ask a Pol — a new people-powered press corps. 

Ask a Pol — asking your lawmakers your questions at your US Capitol. @AskaPol_AI

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