Emerging Technology and the Law, Part 2

Bridging the Gap Between Emerging Technology and the Law

Last week, we discussed “the pacing problem,” how rapid growth in technology makes it difficult for laws to keep up. This week, we’ll take a look at ways state and federal governments are working to address issues arising from technological advancements. Specifically, we’ll be focusing on an emerging area that is still in growth stages but advancing quickly: deepfakes.

What Is a Deepfake?

A deepfake is a video that on the surface looks and sounds legitimate but is actually altered. For instance, a person can put someone’s face on another individual’s body or can create an entirely new video with altered footage. Such videos can make it appear as if someone is doing or saying something they normally wouldn’t.

How Are Deepfakes Created?

The process of making a deepfake requires the use of generative adversarial networks (GANs). The technique uses two separate and competing algorithms to create an altered, yet realistic-looking, image. One machine uses data from an image and works to replicate it. The more information it has, the better it is at making a copy, which is why many deepfakes involve entertainers or political figures — hundreds of images and videos of them are widely available.

The replicated video is then passed off to the second machine, which works to identify inconsistencies in the copy. When it spots a fake, it sends the data back to the first network, telling it to try again. The process is completed billions of times until a convincing duplicate is made.

When this technique was first developed, it required the use of powerful computers. However, in just two short years, technological advancements made it so almost anyone with a desktop, laptop, or smartphone can create a deepfake.

How Are Deepfakes Used?

Now widely accessible, deepfakes can be a source of entertainment. People can digitally place themselves on another person’s video or create avatars of themselves for games or online shopping. A popular deepfake making its way through the web shows actor Bill Hader impersonating Tom Cruise. During his impression, his face subtly transitions into Cruise’s, making it seem as if Cruise is the one being interviewed on a talk show.

Although they can be fun to make and share, deepfakes also have the potential for causing harm. Actor Jordan Peele’s production company used editing software and an application to create a video of former President Barack Obama giving his opinion about one of the characters in the movie ‘Black Panther.’ The video demonstrates how easy it can be to make a public figure say and do things they really didn’t.

Currently, if someone is looking close enough, deepfakes are easy to spot. Glitches and rough edges make the video appear “off.” However, as artificial intelligence technology advances, the slight imperfections in deepfakes will become harder to detect.

How Are Deepfakes Shared?

As people have access to various electronic devices and social media accounts, disseminating deepfake videos to others is simple. A user just needs to open an app, click a few buttons, and the image can be shared worldwide.

Because deepfakes can potentially show a political figure saying something they didn’t, social shares can be damaging. As mentioned last week, stopping the spread of possibly harmful information on social media platforms can be difficult because of First Amendment protections.

How Are Lawmakers Responding to This New Tech?

Last week, we discussed how lawmakers have had difficulty keeping up with advancing technology. However, recognizing the potential issues deepfakes can create, state and federal governments are trying to develop innovative ways to stay current with this emerging technology.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office announced its Center for Strategic Foresight. The Center, which consists of 9 non-resident Fellows, was developed to stay abreast of developing technological trends and anticipate potential legal issues. The focus of its inaugural conference was deepfakes, as well as space policy.

At the state level, Texas addressed potential issues concerning deepfakes by passing legislation that prohibits the creation and dissemination of such videos to influence the results of an election.

Specifically, the law bans people from:

  • Creating deepfakes; and
  • Distributing the videos within 30 days of an election

A violation of this law is a Class A misdemeanor.

Contact Rodriguez & Gimbert for Legal Representation

Although policymakers are developing legislation to prevent the spread of potentially harmful deepfakes, how these new laws will affect society has yet to be seen. If a person is charged with an offense, it may be possible to challenge the accusation by asserting First Amendment rights.

If you are charged with a crime, our attorneys will fight hard to protect your rights. With over 45 years of combined experience, we understand the law and will work toward getting your charges reduced or dropped.

If you missed last week’s blog on emerging technology and the law, click here. If you’re in need of immediate legal assistance, schedule your free consultation today by calling us at (979) 559-3599 or contacting us online.