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Washington State's Groundbreaking Law Against Deepfake Exploitation

Updated: Mar 21

Although I am an English-qualified lawyer, I am originally from Seattle, on the West Coast of the United States. So I am particularly happy to see a significant milestone has been achieved in my home state of Washington: the enactment of House Bill 1999, a new law concerning fabricated intimate or sexually explicit images and digitised depictions.

This new legislation is aimed at combating the malicious distribution of intimate images, specifically addressing the growing threat posed by deepfake technology. And as someone who has been researching, writing, and speaking about deepfakes since 2018, this feels like a really important moment.

Governor Jay Inslee signing the new law on 14 March 2024

Fabricated and digitised sexual content. Last week, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law HB 1999 - 2023-24, marking a crucial step forward in the fight against digital sexual exploitation. Sponsored by Representative Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), this legislation - which comes into force on 6 June 2024 - makes it a gross misdemeanor to knowingly share "fabricated depictions" or "digitised" versions of intimate content without consent. The law stipulates that valid consent for such disclosure must be in writing. This requirement is a safeguard against the misuse of consent, ensuring that all parties have explicitly agreed to the sharing of such sensitive content, thereby reducing the likelihood of abuse.

"Digitization" means creating or altering an image of a person in a realistic manner utilizing images of another person or computer-generated images, regardless of whether such creation or alteration is accomplished manually or through an automated process. "Digitization" includes, but is not limited to, creation or alteration of an image by using artificial intelligence. - Section 7(6)(a)

This comprehensive approach broadens the criminal offenses to cover the creation, possession, distribution, or viewing of fabricated intimate images of minors. Felony charges will now await those who maliciously target minors or repeatedly offend, underscoring the severity of such violations.

Civil cause of action. The law also establishes a civil cause of action for adults and children impacted by non-consensual disclosures. By establishing a civil cause of action, victims are empowered to seek justice and compensation for the harm they've suffered. That said, it's important to acknowledge that this mechanism isn't perfect. Access to justice can be hindered by the cost of legal representation and the complexities of navigating the legal system, potentially placing a significant burden or pressure on victims. Nonetheless, it represents a crucial first step towards offering recourse and highlighting the need for more comprehensive solutions to address these barriers, and ensure that individuals have the opportunity to pursue justice.

Dignity and privacy. In an era where technological innovation often outpaces legal frameworks, the unanimous passage of HB 1999 by Washington lawmakers reflects a bipartisan commitment to safeguarding the dignity and privacy of individuals online. This legislation is not just about penalising wrongdoers; it's about empowering victims, fostering a safer digital environment, and promoting responsible technology use.

As someone deeply engrossed in the discourse on deepfakes since 2018, I believe this as a pivotal moment in acknowledging the significance of our digital personas. The passage of this law reinforces the importance of consent, privacy, and dignity in the digital realm, offering a robust model for other jurisdictions to follow.

Who we are and how we appear in the public sphere—especially online—truly matters.

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