Wisconsin man is charged with making child pornography images using AI in first case in US

Steven Anderegg faces 70 years in prison for allegedly creating over 13,000 AI-generated images depicting children engaging in sexual acts

James Liddell
Wednesday 22 May 2024 17:04
Steven Anderegg faces up to 70 years in prison
Steven Anderegg faces up to 70 years in prison (Supplied)

A Wisconsin man could be the first person in the US to face a federal charge of making explicit images of children with artificial intelligence (AI).

Steven Anderegg, 42, of Holmen, La Crosse County, has been accused of using AI image generator Stable Diffusion to create more than 13,000 false images of minors engaging in sexual acts – including with grown men. The images did not show real children.

Authorities seized Mr Anderegg’s laptop and found the explicit material, according to the indictment against him.

He faces four counts of creating, distributing and possessing child sexual abuse material and sending explicit material to a child under 16. He could serve up to 70 years in prison if found guilty, following his arrest last week.

In September, Mr Anderegg allegedly posted a realistic AI-generated image of children wearing bondage-themed leather clothes on his Instagram story.

The accompanying Telegram messages encouraged others to “[c]ome check out what [they] are missing”, according to court documents.

In another exchange on Instagram, Mr Anderegg allegedly explained how to use Stable Diffusion to a 15-year-old boy before sending him several AI images of children displaying their genitals.

Stable Diffusion’s website describes it as “a deep learning model used for converting text to images” giving users the “freedom to produce” reams of “photo-realistic” images.

Mr Anderegg allegedly created the sexualized images of children by inputting typed-out descriptions into the image generator software. He has been accused of using “extremely specific and explicit prompts” to create abusive material, according to the indictment.

He downloaded specialized add-ons, which could create genitalia, investigators said.

Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general, said that the DOJ will aggressively pursue those creating CSAM (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A spokesperson for Stable Diffusion’s parent company, Stability AI, told The Independent: “Since taking over the exclusive development of the Stable Diffusion series of models in late 2022 (Stable Diffusion 2 onwards), Stability AI has invested in proactive features to prevent the misuse of AI for the production of harmful content and to make it harder for bad actors to misuse our platform.”

“Stability AI is committed to preventing the misuse of AI and prohibit the use of our image models and services for unlawful activity, including attempts to edit or create CSAM,” they added.

The Department of Justice said it’s the first case it’s aware of a person suspected of using AI to generate child sexual abuse material (CSAM), an official told TheWashington Post.

All forms of computer-generated CSAM are illegal including textual, image and audio material, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The arrest comes as child pornography floods the web with help from AI software being championed by pedophiles on clandestine forums.

Officials have argued that AI-invented images should still be treated in a similar manner as child sex abuse recorded in the real world under the 18 US Code 1466A federal law on obscenity.

“The Justice Department will aggressively pursue those who produce and distribute child sexual abuse material – or CSAM – no matter how that material was created,” said Lisa Monaco, deputy attorney general, in a statement.

“Put simply, CSAM generated by AI is still CSAM, and we will hold accountable those who exploit AI to create obscene, abusive, and increasingly photorealistic images of children,” she added.

In February, Wisconsin county prosecutors filed documents charging Mr Anderegg with “exposing a child to harmful material” and “sexual contact with a child under age 13”. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $50,000 bond.

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