UK election faces threat of rigging by Britain’s enemies using AI deepfakes, home secretary warns

Deepfake videos generated using artificial intelligence could provide the “perfect storm” for the UK’s adversaries to influence the upcoming general election, the home secretary has warned.

James Cleverley said ahead of a planned meeting with tech bosses in Silicon Valley that the era of deepfake videos disrupting elections across the globe was “already in play”.

He warned that adversaries working on behalf of countries like Iran or Russia could flood social media platforms with highly realistic AI-generated deepfake videos in an attempt to sway voters. Roughly half the global population is taking part in elections this year, including in the UK, the US and across the EU.

“The era of deepfake and AI-generated content to mislead and disrupt is already in play,” Mr Cleverley told The Times, adding that “increasingly today the battle of ideas and policies takes place in the ever-changing and expanding digital sphere.”

“The landscape it is inserted into needs its rules, transparency and safeguards for its users. The questions asked about digital content and the sources of digital content are no less relevant than those asked about the content and sources at dispatch boxes, newsrooms, or billboard ads,” he said.

Earlier this month tech giants including Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, and 17 others agreed to work together to prevent deceptive AI content, but this pact did not commit to banning deepfake videos.

London’s mayor Sadiq Khan also warned earlier this month that deepfakes could swing a close UK election.

Mr Khan, who was the victim of an AI-generated recording of him supposedly making inflammatory remarks in the run-up to Armistice Day protests last year, said the regulation around the fakes is currently “not fit for purpose.”

“It’s not an issue of policing, it’s an issue of legislation and regulation,” he said.

“My worry is, in a close election, a close referendum, these sorts of deepfake videos and audios can be the difference, but also my concern is, there are sometimes examples where these sorts of deepfake audios can lead to serious disturbances, particularly when emotions are running high,” the London mayor warned.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has said the UK general election will take place at some point this year, likely in October, but the exact date has not yet been announced.

The European Parliament is set to go into elections this year in June.

Ahead of the EU elections, Facebook owner Meta said it is setting up a team to tackle disinformation and the abuse of AI as concerns about misuse of the technology to manipulate voters loom.

“As the election approaches, we’ll activate an Elections Operations Center to identify potential threats and put mitigations in place in real time,” Marco Pancini, Meta’s head of EU affairs, said in a blog post.

Experts from across Meta’s teams, including those working in its intelligence, engineering, content policy, and legal teams will work on combating misinformation and tackling influence operations to tackle the abuse of such AI tools.

The social media giant said it is working with 26 independent fact-checking organisations across the EU covering 22 languages.