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Research report looks at "deepfakes" and synthetic media

23 May 2019

There are a wide range of legal and pseudo-legal regimes touching upon the potential harms caused by the creation, content and dissemination of synthetic media. Caution is recommended in developing any substantial new law without first understanding the complex interaction of existing legal regimes, a new report says.

The report, Perception Inception: Preparing for deepfakes and the synthetic media of tomorrow, has been financed by the New Zealand Law Foundation and written by Curtis Barnes and Tom Barraclough.

They say that new audiovisual technologies can produce increasingly realistic images, sounds and videos by creating and manipulating digital data using computers.

"These representations can make it look and sound like something happened when it did not, or that it happened differently than it did. Industry-grade visual and audio effects technologies can achieve the same thing, however new audiovisual technologies present new legal and social issues."

These technologies have huge potential benefits, but they also have risks, they say.

"Assessment of these risks will require ongoing cross-disciplinary analysis. From a legal perspective, emerging audiovisual technologies may be used to deceive or mislead. Public awareness of this risk of deception has grown through discussion of one kind of emerging audiovisual technology known as “deepfakes”. The existence of such technologies may undermine general trust in audiovisual information to some degree."

The report makes a number of recommendations, including closer ongoing investigation by collaboration between legal and technological subject matter experts.

"Any new legislation must take the position that synthetic media technologies and artefacts touch upon individual rights of privacy and freedom of expression, deserving careful attention from policymakers and broad public consultation. There are benefits, risks, and trade-offs to be discussed in deciding whether to allocate responsibility for restricting synthetic media technologies to the State or to private actors. Human rights, the rule of law, natural justice, transparency and accountability are essential ingredients in whatever approach is adopted."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019