UK to criminalise deepfake pornography, regardless of creator’s intentions

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Apr 16, 2024 at 01:10 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that the creation of sexually explicit deepfake images will soon be considered a criminal offence under new legislation in the UK.

According to the BBC, individuals who create such images without consent will be subject to a criminal record and potentially an unlimited fine. If the images are shared more widely, those responsible could also face imprisonment.

Deepfake technology, fueled by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), has become the weapon of choice for those seeking to manipulate and degrade individuals, particularly women and girls. This technology allows perpetrators to seamlessly superimpose the faces of unsuspecting victims onto pornographic material, violating their privacy and dignity in unimaginable ways.

This legislation will apply regardless of whether or not the creator initially intended to share the deepfake images, as stated by the MoJ. The Online Safety Act, introduced in 2023, had already established that it was illegal to share deepfake intimate images online. This new legislation should hopefully further dissuade potential offenders.

Over the past few years, there has been a surge in individuals using technology to insert the faces of celebrities or public figures, mostly women, into pornographic films. Celebrities like Sabrina Carpenter, Jenna Ortega, Bobbiy Althoff, and more, have also experienced this, shedding light on the emotional and psychological toll of deepfake exploitation.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding Laura Farris spoke with the BBC and emphasised the immorality and misogyny inherent in such actions, stating unequivocally that the government will not tolerate them. “It is another example of ways in which certain people seek to degrade and dehumanise others—especially women,” Farris stated.

Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman, who discovered that her own image was used in a deepfake video, described the experience as “incredibly invasive” during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Newman discovered that she had been targeted as part of a Channel 4 investigation into deepfakes. Reflecting on the violation, the presenter expressed: “It was violating… it was kind of me and not me,” emphasising the unsettling disconnection between her real self and the manipulated portrayal.

Last year, deepfakes shocked a quiet town in Spain, with the malicious intent of AI used to generate nude images of local young girls, aged from 11 to 17.

Despite the introduction of this legislation, concerns remain about its effectiveness. Clare McGlynn, a law professor specialising in online abuse, highlighted to the Today show the potential limitations in proving intent to cause distress, an element of the law that could create loopholes in enforcement.

The proposed law represents a crucial step in protecting the privacy, dignity, and autonomy of individuals, particularly women and girls, against the insidious threat of deepfake exploitation. However, as Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper emphasised, law enforcement agencies need to be equipped with the necessary tools and training to enforce these laws rigorously.

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