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California Targets AI and “Disinformation” in the Run-Up to the 2024 Election

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California’s recent announcement of a new initiative targeting the risks associated with artificial intelligence and the spread of so-called election disinformation ahead of the 2024 Election will raise concerns among free speech advocates. The California Institute for Technology and Democracy (CITED), unveiled by the democracy advocacy group California Common Cause, marks a significant step in this direction.

This move, born from a perceived lack of action at the national level, risks impinging on free speech under the guise of addressing AI and disinformation threats. CITED’s role will be to advise state legislators in drafting laws that deal with AI, deepfakes, disinformation, and other emerging technologies. However, there is growing skepticism about the potential overreach of such legislation and its impact on free expression.

Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, stated, “AI and disinformation are an existential threat to our democracy and elections. As we all painfully know, Congress has not shown itself capable of advancing meaningful reforms to meet the challenges our democracy now faces. It falls to states like California to fill this dangerous leadership void. Fortunately, we are uniquely positioned to meet this moment…CITED is the first entity of its kind, intentionally designed to protect our democracy in the modern age.” This perspective, while focused on protecting democracy, does not fully address the concerns about free speech restrictions.

The advisory group of CITED, consisting of experts from technology, law, policy, and academia, claims a bipartisan composition. However, the definition and policing of “disinformation” remain contentious, especially when political biases might influence such determinations.

Further, the specifics of California’s proposed legislative measures are yet to be detailed, with lawmakers returning to Sacramento for policymaking in January. This lack of clarity fuels concerns about the potential for broad or vague laws that could unintentionally suppress legitimate speech.

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