News Item

May 2019

Research on deepfakes released - "Perception inception: Preparing for deepfakes and the synthetic media of tomorrow"

Contemporary audio-visual effects technologies now allow for the creation and manipulation of information in challenging ways never before encountered. They can be used to put words in people’s mouths, portray people doing things they never did, copy their faces and voices, or even create entirely new faces and voices that appear thoroughly human.

This research report funded through the Foundation’s Information Law and Policy Project was undertaken by researchers Tom Barraclough and Curtis BarnesT. he report considers the wide-ranging social, legal and policy issues arising. Synthetic media technologies have huge potential benefits, but they also have risks. 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 researchers anticipate that synthetic media will continue to improve, becoming better and more accessible. They think it likely that in the near future, consumers and citizens will be regularly exposed to audio, images and video that looks or sounds as if it is a reliable representation of factual events, even though it is not. It is information that gives the impression that it was “captured”, when in fact it was “constructed” to a greater or lesser extent. Lots of this information will be benign or beneficial, but some of it will be harmful.

The researchers are not convinced that enacting substantial new law is either necessary or the best way to address the harms that may be generated by synthetic media. They also identify a risk that, where new law goes beyond existing law, it may abrogate rights of freedom of expression. Synthetic media is a means of expression like many others.

One of the more significant gaps in New Zealand law is not so much a gap as a boundary. It is a result of the nature of its jurisdictional limits to its own sovereign borders (in most cases): in particular, its application to overseas actors, whether other internet users, or to large social media platforms. Importantly, this is not an issue unique to New Zealand or to synthetic media technologies.

In their research report from page 122 to 129, the researchers set out their conclusions, identify specific gaps in New Zealand law and make specific recommendations, as well as provide concluding remarks.

Full report in PDF – 136 pages

Media advisory, 21 May 2019

Radio NZ interview with co-author Tom Barraclough, 21 May 2019

The Law Foundation contributed $80,250 to this research.