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Utah's role in combating election deepfakes

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Utah's role in combating election deepfakes


No, former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is not running for president, even though a voice that sounded eerily similar to his said as much at a press conference on Tuesday. The recording was a deepfake — one that Herbert had no involvement in making.

The fake audio recording was used to illustrate the dangers of artificial intelligence in the 2024 elections, and to set up an announcement about the creation of a Utah pilot program to combat deepfake AI images and audio.

While the Herbert deepfake was created to make a point, Brandon Amacher, program director at the Emerging Tech Policy Lab for Utah Valley University’s Center for National Security Studies, said AI is already being used to spread misinformation across the globe.

Amacher gave several examples:

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  • India’s recent national election was “rife with AI election interference,” Amacher said. There were falsified celebrity endorsements, candidates claiming legitimate media was AI and the circulation of doctored videos.
  • A deepfake video of State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller that circulated suggested that the U.S. authorized the use of American weapons to strike deep inside Russian territory amid the conflict in Ukraine.
  • In Taiwan’s 2024 election, AI was used to undermine candidate credibility and create false media stories such as the unfounded rumor that President Lai Ching Te had fathered an illegitimate child.
  • Closer to home, deepfake audio of President Joe Biden was used for political calls in New Hampshire before the presidential primary there.

These examples, and the potential for AI to affect local races come November, have prompted the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy, the Center for National Security Studies at UVU and Provo startup SureMark Digital Identity Services to partner to launch a pilot project to combat deepfakes in Utah elections. The project’s scope is the races for the state’s four congressional seats and the open Senate seat “by giving the candidates the ability to authenticate their digital identity for free.”

In addition, voters can use a free browser plug-in that will verify digital content coming from candidates. The project is to “instill faith in the election system in voters,” those involved said.

How does the program work? W. Scott Stornetta, chairman of SureMark Digital Identity Services, said there are three steps:

  1. The program verifies the identity of the candidate for public office.
  2. Content from the verified candidate is authorized.
  3. The sources are validated for the public by the free browser plugin, which will be available next month.

This is the place

At the press conference, Stornetta said Utah is an optimal place to launch the pilot project because of a tradition of the political process working in the state. The Utah Compact, the Utah Compromise and Gov. Spencer Cox’s “Disagree Better” campaign were brought up as examples.

Stornetta said the aim is to “capture” the attention of all Utahns in the process.

The rise of AI may make some people complacent, thinking there’s nothing they can do to differentiate what’s real and what’s made up, Stornetta said, but if citizens combine together and candidates are credentialed through the program it’s a way to take responsibility in a time of so much disinformation.

Having accuracy and authenticity is as important on the local level as it is nationally or globally, Herbert said.

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“I’m proud to say that I believe, in fact, that we can trust the election process in the state of Utah,” he said.

Looking ahead

Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner said launching the program now is important because over time deepfakes will become more convincing.

“You can’t just trust your eyes and ears,” she said. “You need to be able to look deeper.”

Amacher said 2024′s election will have some AI influence, but future elections are expected to be affected much more.

“We want to learn from this election so there is a more robust way to secure public confidence in future elections,” he said.

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The candidates in Utah’s House races and Senate race can choose if they want to participate or not.

The pilot runs from this month until winning candidates are sworn into office in January 2025.



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Ali Mulhall, Jenna Anderson tie for medalist honors Wednesday at 118th Utah Women's State Amateur

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Ali Mulhall, Jenna Anderson tie for medalist honors Wednesday at 118th Utah Women's State Amateur


It took a bit longer than usual, but the field has been set for the match play portion of the 118th Utah Women’s State Amateur golf tournament at TalonsCove Golf Club in Saratoga Springs, Utah.

In Wednesday’s 18-hole stroke play qualifying for the field of 32 in match play, Black Desert athlete Ali Mulhall, 19, and Utah Tech golfer Jenna Anderson tied for medalist honors. They shot rounds of 7-under 65 at the par-72 layout west of Utah Lake.

But the most drama came at the under end of the cut line, as six golfers who shot 9-over 81 staged a playoff for five match-play spots.

Of that group, the five players moving on are Whitni Johnson, Annette Gaiotti, Steph Belnap, Susan Tiffner and Amanda Henneman.

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Libby Ward, a former Lake Point resident who played college golf at Glenville State in West Virginia, and Westminster College golfer Reimi Bleyl were eliminated in the playoff (Bleyl did not return to the course to participate in the playoff).

The Round of 32 at the 2024 Utah Women’s State Amateur begins Thursday morning at 8 a.m. MDT, and all 16 matches will begin on the No. 1 hole at TalonsCove.

Mulhall, who was featured in a Deseret News article Tuesday and played most of her high school golf in the Las Vegas area, got the No. 1 seed and will take on Fremont High’s Tiffner in the first match Thursday. Second-seeded Anderson, from St. George, will face Bonneville High’s Whitni Johnson at approximately 9:12 a.m.

Mulhall’s round on Wednesday included eagles on holes 1 and 13 and birdies on 9, 12 and 16.

Anderson also played bogey-free, with seven birdies, including a pair of 2s on the par-3 holes No. 8 and No. 17.

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Jenna Anderson, a golfer for Utah Tech, participates in stroke play qualifying at the Utah Women’s State Amateur on Wednesday, July 24, 2024. | Randy Dodson

Five-time champion Kelsey Chugg shot 1-under 71 and grabbed the No. 7 seed.

Arizona State golfer Grace Summerhays, the 2020 champion when she was 16, carded a 70.

TalonsCove general manager Kareen Larson shot a 78 to qualify and was the low senior (women age 50 or older). Gaiotti and Belnap, the Farmington High golf coach, are also seniors who made match play.

Larson could face Summerhays in Thursday afternoon’s Round of 16 matches if both pre-tournament favorites win their Round of 32 matches Thursday morning.



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Gordon Monson: Are we sure we want the Olympics in Utah again? Really?

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Gordon Monson: Are we sure we want the Olympics in Utah again? Really?


“Don’t want to go through that again.”

“What are you talking about, the Winter Olympics here in 2002 were fantastic, one of the best experiences ever in the history of Salt Lake City.”

“Hated ‘em.”

“Loved ‘em.”

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Overheard a conversation — no, an argument — the other day between two guys — friends, I think — either sitting on a city park bench or in the far reaches of my imagination, not really sure. They were going at it over the fact that Utah this week pried, if that’s the right word, another Winter Olympic Games out of the International Olympic Committee, this time in 2034, minus the misunderstandings, minus the bribes, minus the corruption, minus the ridicule and stigma of the first time around, with the possibility that Salt Lake could become a future part of a regular Olympic city rotation.

“2034, and beyond? Might not even be alive by then,” the one said.

“If you are, it’ll be a sight worth having stayed alive to see,” said the other.

“Nah. Too much hassle, too much traffic, too many people, people from other places speaking … you know, other languages. This is our town here, our streets, our canyons, our mountains, our slopes, our ice, our fry sauce, our quirkiness, our one-sided politics, our inversion.”

“C’mon. I’ve never witnessed downtown SLC so awake at all hours, it was hopping at 1, 2, 3 in the morning. For 17 days and nights, it put the ‘F’ in ‘un.’”

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(Ryan Galbraith | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pete Wilson from Summit, N.J., takes a swig from his beer Sunday, Feb. 10, 2002, at Peaks Ice Arena in Provo as Austria and Germany compete in men’s hockey in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Today was the first time beer was for sale on a Sunday in Provo. “It’s not a real beer though,” said Wilson, referring to Utah’s 3.2% alcohol content.

“Parking was atrocious.”

“There was, indeed, a whole lot of healthy walking going on.”

“Got sick of everybody dressing like — what was it, Canadians or Norwegians or members of the French Foreign Legion? So many berets, berets here, there, everywhere. I know a guy living in Sandy who grew up in Panguitch, who was raised herding cattle and moving sprinkler pipe, a countrified cowboy who said ‘was’ when he should have said ‘were,’ who wouldn’t use any profanity, but used ‘fetch’ and ‘frickin’ all the time, who once told me he threw an ‘apple car’ out the ‘core window,’ who knew more about tractors then he ever did about any of life’s fineries, who wore a frickin’ beret for two weeks during the games, and a month after them. He looked ridiculous, but thought he was all sophisticated in that getup.”

“It was the pin collecting and trading that I got into and that was a gas. Meeting folks from all over, buying and swapping hockey pins, skiing pins, skating pins, pins with moose heads on them, pins from Sweden, pins featuring foamy mugs of German beer, pins with an American flag on them. It was all the rage.”

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“Wasn’t there a news story after the games ended about the thousands of condoms they found in and around the Olympic village, where all the athletes were … um, sleeping, trying, apparently, to keep one another warm during their time there?”

“I was more fixated on the athletes’ skillful performances on the ice and snow in their respective sports. Man, don’t you remember Sarah Hughes skating? Chris Witty speedskating? Katrin Apel biathloning? Tristan Gale skeletoning? Simon Ammann ski jumping? Martin Brodeur goaltending? Kelly Clark snowboarding? And all the rest?”

“I remember, like, none of those. I do remember at the medals plaza Scott Stapp singing ‘With Arms Wide Open,’ striking classic rock star poses as Creed’s front man.”

“You probably remember Bobsled Costas?”

“Was that the Olympics when his one pink eye was oozing and then both of them were?”

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“No, that was Sochi in 2014, and Bob’s efforts there were nothing short of heroic. He was an American hero.”

Picabo Street flies down the women’s downhill course at Snowbasin Saturday afternoon to a first place finish during the first day of practice for the women. The women’s first day of practice that was scheduled on Friday was cancelled due to bad weather. 02/09/2002, 1:42:47 AM

“I do remember American hero Picabo Street in 2002 finishing 16th in her final ski race. That was disappointing. I remember her saying, ‘I’m over it.’”

“Do you remember Wayne Gretzky’s joy at the Canadians winning gold in men’s ice hockey? The Great One was thrilled, and so was I. Just like I was thrilled when the 1980 U.S. ‘Miracle On Ice’ hockey team lit the torch during the opening ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Cool.”

“What I remember more clearly is French skating judge Marie Reine Le Gougne throwing in with the Russians, initially screwing the resplendent Canadian skating team of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier out of a gold medal. Luckily, later they were granted, in a ceremonial re-do, gold medals of their own. That whole thing was nice, but weird.”

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“So much soaring athleticism at those games, right here in our backyard.”

“You mean athletes like the dudes in the luge who plop down on what amounts to a cookie sheet, who spread their bodies over a sled like cream cheese on a bagel, and slide down an ice track to glory? Athletes like the curlers who slide stones across the ice while teammates sweep the surface like Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Billy cleaning out the family kitchen?”

“Lighten up. There are always the heartwarming stories of the future, like the ones of the past — such as at the 2002 games, when Jimmy Shea won a gold medal in skeleton with a picture of his father, Jack, who had won a gold medal years earlier in speedskating, tucked inside his helmet. Jack had died just weeks before the games started in an auto accident. And the story about American snowboarder Chris Klug, who two years earlier had undergone a liver transplant, winning a bronze medal on Feb. 15, which happened to be National Organ Donor Awareness Day.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the United States Olympic team carry an American flag that was damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks during the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Friday, Feb. 8, 2002.

“I get it. I just wonder about stuff like security. I recall the lengths to which officials went to keep the 2002 games safe, what with the world watching just months after 9/11. The world will be watching again, at least the part of it that cares about sports done on ice and snow, in 2034. That’s a lot of risk and responsibility that falls on the locals here in Utah, even with help from the feds. Some of the Olympic venues last time around looked like prison encampments, complete with walls and gates covered in razor wire. If anything horrible were to happen, Salt Lake City would get the blame — and the ridicule.”

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“And if proper measures are taken, it will get the credit, like it did last time, for putting on a tremendous event. Utah’s volunteers were as much a part of that success as anyone, and everyone knew it, even if they were decked out in those gaudy jackets and, in some instances, yeah, the berets, too.”

“There were 2,399 athletes at those games. And there were something like five times that many used condoms found. Makes me understand better those games’ motto: ‘Light the Fire Within.’”

“They were lit, all right. Those Winter Olympic Games were lit.”

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.



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Opinion: Supreme Court decisions will hurt Utah and its neighbors

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Opinion: Supreme Court decisions will hurt Utah and its neighbors


Over and over the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has buried a knife in the back of the Biden Administration’s attempt to deliver cleaner air, cleaner water and a fighting chance to mitigate the climate crisis. By doing so, they also buried a knife in the back of the health and life expectancy of everyone in Utah, almost literally. Yet Utah’s Republican leaders cheered the court’s callousness.

Two years ago, the court neutered EPA’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing coal power plant emissions nationwide and accelerating their disappearance as major climate villains. Last year, they narrowed the definition of wetlands in a way that dismisses the many environmental benefits that wetlands provide, and wetlands throughout the country will be lost because of it.

We cannot save Great Salt Lake while degrading and amputating its wetlands. But that’s what’s in store for more than tens of thousands of acres of the lake’s adjacent wetlands thanks to the misguided warehouse building frenzy brought to you by the Utah Inland Port Authority.

Trading wetlands for asphalt is an air pollution “double whammy.” Wetlands act like sponges and absorb particulate pollution. The presence or absence of wetlands can even predict levels of particulate pollution in an area. On the other hand, asphalt, even without vehicle traffic, emits VOCs and secondary organic aerosols virtually indefinitely, especially in summer heat. In fact, this phenomenon was calculated as equal to, or even exceeding the contribution of tailpipe emissions to summertime PM2.5 in Los Angeles. VOCs are toxic in and of themselves and are also precursors of ozone.

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Wetlands can store 20 to 40 times more carbon than agricultural land, and for hundreds of years. But once warmed or disturbed, they release three potent greenhouse gasses — CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. Wetlands’ capturing of sediment helps sequester heavy metals, preventing them from reaching Great Salt Lake and becoming airborne if the lake dries up. Heavy metals are some of the greatest hazards contaminating the lake’s dust.

In the past two weeks, the court continued swinging their wrecking ball at all aspects of American life, particularly at the environment. Air pollution is responsible for about one in five deaths worldwide and contributes to four of the five leading causes of death. Nonetheless, the court buried their knife in the Good Neighbor Rule, which would have forced Utah to be a good neighbor to Colorado by requiring tighter pollution controls on our large coal fired power plants whose emissions actually do “bury” people in Colorado.

Utah’s political leaders celebrated the court allowing them to continue being a bad neighbor and bury even more people in Colorado, as if their lives and health mean nothing. But Utah’s coal power plants are major regional sources of pollution. They drape our own national parks with smog, and as the state’s largest sources of nitrogen oxides, (precursors of ozone and particulate pollution), damage and shorten the lives of Utahns, as if our lives and health also mean nothing.

Anti-regulatory zealots have dreamt about reversing the “Chevron doctrine” like it was the second coming, and the Supreme Court, assuming the mantle of deity, answered their prayers. Gaps or ambiguity in congressional law (and there is inevitably both) will no longer be filled by the judgment of civil service experts. Details of the laws that govern federal agencies will now be filled in by judges via their ruling on lawsuits. And given their recent judicial power grab and eagerness to have the final say on just about everything, six hard right judges have made themselves the final arbiters on environmental issues.

Big polluters like the Koch Brothers, who funded the Chevron challenge in the first place, are licking their chops to start filing lawsuits to gut federal environmental rules. The knowledge of actual medical and scientific experts will now take a back seat to the opinions of Federalist-Society-approved law school graduates on how clean your air and water will be.

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Through dark money from the pockets of hard right billionaires, Leonard Leo has acted as their middle man in essentially purchasing our Supreme Court and lower courts. And on their behalf, the investment has paid off handsomely. Federal agencies that depend on scientific expertise to establish regulations will now be at the mercy of ideologues who hate regulations.

Expertise matters, and the farcicality of the ruling was exposed before the ink was dry. In writing the conservative majority’s opinion, in five places Justice Neil Gorsuch showed he didn’t know the difference between nitrogen oxides (a hazardous smoke stack pollutant) and nitrous oxide (best known as an anesthetic gas). An anesthesiologist who doesn’t know the difference could kill someone. A Supreme Court that doesn’t know the difference could kill en masse.

When anti-regulatory purity is prioritized over expertise, your life could be the consequence.

Dr. Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. He recently retired from a 40 year career practicing intraoperative anesthesia.

The Salt Lake Tribune is committed to creating a space where Utahns can share ideas, perspectives and solutions that move our state forward. We rely on your insight to do this. Find out how to share your opinion here, and email us at voices@sltrib.com.

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