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State lawmakers may regulate AI technology, data privacy protection

By Hannah Shields
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — The emergence of digitally altered photos and videos, otherwise known as “deepfakes,” has prompted warnings from the National Security Agency and other federal agencies, which view it as a growing threat.

Deepfakes can take the image or video of a person and alter it to change their face and influence what they are saying. This realistic manipulation of AI-generated content poses a huge risk for spreading disinformation and breaching security, experts say.

New advice was issued by U.S. federal agencies last September on the growing threat of “highly realistic synthetic media” as the country approaches a contentious presidential election year. The biggest threat deepfakes pose, according to the report, is the impersonation of leaders, financial officers and access to an organization’s sensitive information.

The advancement of computer technology has made deepfakes easier and less expensive to produce, the report stated. Wyoming lawmakers first approached AI governance as an interim topic last year, in the Legislature’s Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation Technology.

Discussion resulted in a committee-sponsored bill, Senate File 51, during the 2024 budget session to address the “unlawful dissemination of misleading synthetic media.” As written, the bill created penalties for any person who “knowingly and intentionally disseminates synthetic media.”

The legislation died in a House committee, however, and will be revisited this interim leading up to the 2025 general session.

Walking the line

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, who chairs the committee, said the bill was laid back because some lawmakers were concerned it posed limitations on freedom of expression. The line legislators have to walk is between this and preventing harmful spread of misinformation.

“It’s a real tension. It’s something that is always a challenge when you are providing limitations on speech,” Rothfuss said. “How do you draw those lines? Where do you draw those lines? And how do you make sure that you have a compelling state interest?”

Rothfuss said he personally felt the bill was in good shape. It allowed all speech, but required that a disclaimer be posted if artificial intelligence was used, clarifying it wasn’t a factually accurate description.

This type of misinformation is new territory heading into the election year, with state and federal legislators across the country faced with the same dilemma. Anonymous messages found in people’s mailboxes attacking state officials, known as attack mailers, have infiltrated the Cowboy State’s election cycles since 2022.

As candidates start to make their bids for statewide office official, false messages spread through a form of digitally altered content isn’t far from lawmakers’ minds, Rothfuss said.

“It wasn’t enough of a concern yet to pass that legislation,” Rothfuss said, “but it certainly is a real concern.”

He added there was also pushback from industries on the bill, arguing that companies didn’t “want to be governed” or held financially liable for the spread of any misinformation.

In addressing how Wyoming should manage the regulation and practices of AI, a memorandum produced by the Legislative Service Office suggested reviewing how this is approached in other states.

Connecticut and Vermont, for example, enacted legislation directing state agencies to establish inventories of AI systems, according to the memo. The use of these systems is to detect any fraudulent or potential risks to security.

Other states created task forces to study how AI technology is implemented in various state agencies and departments and consider any liability issues.

Protecting data privacy

Discussions about AI governing laws and data privacy protection often overlap, Rothfuss said.

The committee will consider two bill drafts related to data privacy in Wyoming, which includes sensitive information like names, images, likeness and location data. The topic of data privacy has been part of conversations since before the select committee was formed in 2020.

“We need to find some solutions that really start protecting Wyoming citizen data,” he said. “And we’re looking at it in ways that other states haven’t, trying to make it a little more comprehensive.”

Legislators want to protect Wyomingites’ data privacy in every scenario, which is a conversation that can make some government agencies and corporations “uncomfortable,” Rothfuss said. Similar to creating AI governance laws, lawmakers have to make sure the language would protect Wyoming residents while not being overly restrictive on business and government operations.

The Wyoming Department of Health, Community College Commission and Retirement System are affected agencies that will give their own presentations on how data privacy would affect them during the select committee’s meeting next week.

The select committee will meet in Jackson on Monday and Tuesday, starting at 8:30 a.m. each day, in the Teton County School District 1 boardroom. Information on the meeting’s agenda, presentations and livestream is available at


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