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Caution urged on introducing new laws to combat 'deepfakes'

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 21 May 2019, 3:04 pm

It can take less than 30 mins for a skilled person using consumer-level tech to create a realistic video and audio recording of the Prime Minister that is completely untrue. But that is not a reason to leap too fast into drafting new legislation.

That's according to the Tom Barraclough, co-author of a Law Foundation study released today, 'Perception Inception: preparing for deepfakes and the synthetic media of tomorrow'.

While artificial intelligence techniques can create massive volumes of fake audio, images and video that is near-impossible to detect, the Government should be cautious about moving to new law for "deepfake" audio and video, he says.

Barraclough, who together with co-author Curtis Barnes, spent nine months researching the topic, "predicts that deepfake and other synthetic media will be the next wave of content causing concern to government and tech companies following the Christchurch Call".

"Even if we can all agree something must be done, the next step is agreeing on specifics. That can't be done without close analysis of the status quo," he says.

"Calling for a kind of social media regulator is fine, but these suggestions need substance. What standards will the regulator apply? Would existing agencies do a better job? What does it mean specifically to say a company has a duty of care? The law has to give any Court or regulator some guidance."

"Further, we must ask what private companies can do that governments can't. We have to consider access to justice: often a quick solution is more important than a perfect one. Social media companies can restrict content in ways that Governments can't: is that something we should encourage or restrict?"

The authors reviewed existing legislation, including the Privacy Act, New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, Human Rights Act, the Harmful Digital Communications Act and the Harrassment Act. They concluded that, for now, existing legislation may be all that's required to police the criminal use of deepfakes.

"At least 16 current acts and formal guidelines touch on the potential harms of synthetic media," Tom says. "Before calling for new law or new regulators, let's work out what we've already got, and why existing law is or isn't working."

"Enforcing the existing law will be difficult enough, and it is not clear that any new law would be able to do better. Overseas attempts to draft law for deepfakes have been seriously criticised."

Not all fake video is bad, and the researchers point out that synthetic media is a huge strength of New Zealand's creative industries. However, they also note there are "many harmful uses that do need to be curtailed, including the creation of non-consensual pornography and using synthetic speech to produce false recordings of public figures."

You can read the full report here.




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