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Election watchdog issues urgent warning over AI interference: ‘race against the clock’

British election regulators have urged politicians to pass new laws to limit spending on artificial intelligence (AI) as well as new requirements to identify AI-generated content. 

“The next U.K. general election is a ripe target for electronic disinformation given we are in the infancy of the AI age,” Alan Mendoza, co-founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, told Fox News Digital. “Many of the possible problems that may emerge have not even been considered.”

“As a result, we face a race against the clock to introduce appropriate protections, or run the nightmare risk of bad actors influencing campaigns and destroying public trust in our democratic process,” he added. 

The rapid ascendancy of AI tools and accessibility has raised myriad concerns about the potential impact bad actors could have on major events such as elections should officials fail to provide proper guardrails. 

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Tom Newhouse, vice president of Digital Marketing at Convergence Media and a former digital director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, wrote an op-ed for Fox News Digital in which he warned that the next U.S. election could see a burgeoning AI “arms race.”

Voting location UK

A person leaves Canford Cliffs Library Polling station, as people go to the polls in the local elections, on May 4, 2023 in Poole, England. This year’s local elections are being held across more than 230 councils in England and cover district councils, metropolitan boroughs and unitary authorities. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Parties and campaigns will look to create “hyper-targeted ads, highly scalable and personalized content creation, turbocharged opposition research and other developments that will drive further efficiencies on resource-deprived campaigns,” Newhouse warned. 

British regulators wish to avoid these issues by creating legislation that will require parties to register when they have created AI-generated ads or content and, more importantly, report how much their campaigns have spent on using AI, according to The Guardian.

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The U.K.’s Electoral Commission has called for better rules on spending and reporting, bigger fines for campaigners who break those rules, and stronger oversight power to regulate “new ways of campaigning.” 

The British government in 2021 decided to mandate the inclusion of a “digital imprint” on material to show who produced it and who paid for it, starting in November 2023. The imprint will need to appear on social media ads, tweets and posts, as well as text message campaigns and any videos or images produced for campaigns. 

Uk Election votes

Volunteers count the votes during the Stoke On Trent Election Count And Declaration on May 4, 2023 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Elections are being held in 230 of England’s 317 councils with mandatory ID to vote coming into force for the first time. (Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

The Electoral Commission will oversee the enforcement of the imprint and produce statutory guidelines for parties and campaigners to ensure they adhere to the new requirement. The commission also plans to meet with social media companies to discuss how to improve transparency on their platforms for election advertising. 

Louise Edwards, the director of regulation and digital transformation at the commission, told The Guardian that voters need to know how much a party is spending on AI or whether the ad they are seeing was created with AI. 

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“There is an issue around how campaigners are spending their money, but there is also a concern on our part around public confidence in political campaigning,” Edwards said.

Edwards highlighted the “far too low” level of regulation on digital campaigning, saying the commission’s research found nearly 60% of the public remained concerned about the regulation of political campaigning online.

UK election commission

King Charles III coronation flags hang from a fence at a polling station as people go to the polls in the local elections on May 4, 2023 in Middlesbrough, England. This year’s local elections are being held across more than 230 councils in England and cover district councils, metropolitan boroughs and unitary authorities. (an Forsyth/Getty Images)

The recent Turkish presidential election already has provided a preview of what an AI-dominated campaign might look like: One candidate, Muharrem Ince, dropped out and claimed he was the victim of a faked “character assassination” online, which included an alleged sex tape he insisted was created using deepfake technology. 

“I do not have such an image, no such sound recording,” Ince said. “This is not my private life, it’s slander. It’s not real. What I have seen in these last 45 days, I have not seen in 45 years.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who went on to win the election, also allegedly used a deepfake video that appeared to show Kurdish militants supporting his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu. 

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