Calls from MPs and survivor for protections for 'deepfake porn' victims

Asia's Tech News Daily

Calls from MPs and survivor for protections for 'deepfake porn' victims

An Australian woman who’s life was “shattered” by deepfake porn says proposed law changes to address the attacks in New Zealand will help empower fellow victims.

Labour MP Louisa Wall is fighting to ensure victims of the attacks have the same recourse under the Harmful Digital Communications Act as other survivors of online abuse.

Synthetic intimate visual recordings, known as deepfake pornography, is when someone uses advanced technology to superimpose a person’s face onto someone else’s body, this can be on a nude photo or even a pornographic video.

Noelle Martin, 27, was only a teen when her world was “shattered” after she discovered her image had been used in deepfake porn without her consent.

The law master’s student has used her experience to advocate for change in the space, and is cited as a major factor in Australia criminalising the offence in 2018.

“This happens so often behind closed doors, and people fear speaking out about it, because to do so would risk further exposure to the very material that’s causing a lot of harm. So I feel a great sense of responsibility to continue to put a human story to this issue.”

Martin said the attacks had caused “irreparable damage” and to this day she has struggled to get employment, despite having a law degree.

Having a specific section of the law addressing the problem will help victims to seek support legally, she said.

“There is enormous power in stating expressly what you want to criminalise, because that in itself provides an educative function, that in itself empowers victims to be able to say that specific behavior, that specific action is unacceptable and is against the law.”

Because of her advocacy Martin was a finalist for Young Australian of the Year in 2019, and featured on the Forbes 30 under 30.

While there are no hard figures on the scale of the problem in New Zealand, it’s causing headaches around the world.

Data from deepfake researchers Sensity said that last year 1000 videos were being uploaded each month and attracting millions of views.

Celebrities reportedly targeted so far by the videos include actresses Natalie Portman and Emma Watson and musicians Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift.

Wall said there’s no criminal pathway under the Harmful Digital Communications Act for victims to hold those responsible to account.

The MP said she found out about the issue after she had proposed an amendment to the law earlier this year which would explicitly make the posting of intimate images and recordings without consent illegal.

As it stands the law requires someone to intend to hurt someone when they post explicit images and the prosecution has to prove posting the content caused harm.

Lawmakers saw that can make it more difficult than it should be for victims to pursue justice.

Calls from MPs and survivor for protections for 'deepfake porn' victims

Labour MP Louisa Wall. Photo / File

After realising synthetic intimate recordings weren’t catered for, Wall recommended the change also apply to intimate visual recordings that have been digitally altered or created.

While this wasn’t approved at select committee, she said when the law comes back before Parliament tomorrow there is an opportunity to debate whether or not deepfakes should be included.

“I just want to make sure we have a fit for purpose law, that protects and also sends a clear message, that synthetic intimate visual recordings are unacceptable, and in fact they will be in criminal law.”

She said we need to think seriously about how technology is used and how the law can protect victims when it’s used in an abusive manner.

“Technology is a wonderful tool but technology used incorrectly can be incredibly abusive and harmful and that there are huge ramifications for the victims of this type of image based sexual abuse.”

The online behaviour is also a gendered issue, she said, as 97 per cent of victims of non-consensual synthetic pornography were women.

“We’ve got an opportunity to denormalise it before it becomes a problem.”

Golriz Ghahraman is backing the change and said while female politicians were often targets of online abuse, they also have the ability to fix gaps in the law.

“To me it actually is urgent, and you know it’s something New Zealand can get ahead of before this harm is really widespread.”

She told the Herald that the issue of deepfake pornography was a gap in the law, and they would not tolerate it.

Calls from MPs and survivor for protections for 'deepfake porn' victims

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo / File

“Whether it’s an intimate visual recording, or a synthetic intimate visual recording, the harm to the victim actually is exactly the same.

“These are highly, highly realistic computer images, almost indiscernible to the untrained eye from real footage of that person. And it’s something that is absolutely on the rise everywhere, and New Zealand has had a handful of cases [that we know of].”

New Zealand is “really late” to the piece, Ghahraman said, when it comes to protecting young people from “revenge porn” and so covering deepfakes at the same time makes sense.

“Unless we kind of show leadership in terms of saying there’s going to be zero tolerance

A Netsafe survey in 2019 found 5 per cent of New Zealand adults – or 170,000 people – had been the victim of online image-based abuse, with instances even reported by people over 70 years old.

Ninety-five per cent of the victims were women.

Online safety operations manager for the non-profit, Sean Lyons, said the worrying thing about deepfakes is that even if someone does all they can to protect themselves online they can still become a victim just by having a public photo.

As new technology is created, Lyons said there will be gaps in legislation, but if someone is the victim of deepfake pornography they can get help through Netsafe.

“It’s making sure that we understand as individuals, how to support other individuals that find themselves in that position so that they can seek help and have that content removed before it causes too much harm.”

He said of whether the content is real or fake there could be a range of things they may have breached.

In a statement, the police told the Herald deepfake pornography in itself is no different to explicit imagery, or where it crosses a threshold, objectionable imagery and would be dealt with by police where offences are met.

“Police would deal with every report received on a case by case basis, and would be investigated / responded to based on the circumstances (and offences committed).”

What is Harmful Digital Communication Act and what's changing?

• The law covers the sending of threatening or offensive material and messages, spreading damaging or degrading rumours or publishing invasive or distressing photographs or videos.

• Criminal offences under the law carry a penalty of up to two years’ jail, or a fine up to $50,000.

• The law requires proof that someone intended to hurt someone when they post explicit images.

• Proposed changes would also allow courts to issue take-down orders for revenge porn recordings.

• Labour MP Louisa Wall said the law change would make the act of posting of intimate images and recordings without consent a crime.

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