UK to criminalize deepfake porn sharing without consent

UK to criminalize deepfake porn sharing without consent

Brace for yet another expansion to the UK’s Online Safety Bill: The Ministry of Justice has announced changes to the law which are aimed at protecting victims of revenge porn, pornographic deepfakes and other abuses related to the taking and sharing of intimate imagery without consent — in a crackdown on a type of abuse that disproportionately affects women and girls.

The government claims that the Bill’s latest amendment will expand the definition of intimate image offenses — “so more perpetrators can face prosecution and possibly time in prison.”

A few other abusive behavior that will be made explicitly illegal are “downblousing”, where photographs are taken of a woman’s top without her consent; and the installation equipment such as hidden cameras to take or record images without their consent.

The government describes the proposed changes as a comprehensive package to modernize laws in this region.

It’s also noteworthy because it’s the first time that it has criminalized deepfakes sharing.

Increasingly accessible and powerful image- and video-generating AIs have led to a rise in deepfake porn generation and abuse, driving concern about harms linked to this type of AI-enabled technology.

Just this week, the Verge reported that the maker of the open source AI text-to-image generator Stable Diffusion had tweaked the software to make it harder for users to generate nude and pornographic imagery — apparently responding to the risk of the generative AI tech being used to create pornographic images of child abuse material.

But this is just one example. There are many other tools that can be used to generate pornographic deepfakes.

From revenge porn to deepfakes

While the UK passed a law against revenue porn back in 2015 victims and campaigners have been warning for years that the regime isn’t working and applying pressure for a rethink.

This has resulted in some targeted changes over time. For example, the government made ‘upskirting’ illegal via a change to the law that came into force back in 2019. While, in March, it said ‘cyberflashing’ would be added as an offence to the incoming online safety legislation.

However, it has decided that further amendments are required to clarify and expand offences related to intimate photos in order for police and prosecutors be able to pursue cases more efficiently and to keep up with technological advances.

It’s acting on several Law Commission recommendations in its 2021 review of intimate image abuse.

This includes the repeal and replacement of current legislation with new offences that the government believes will lower the bar for successful prosecutions. This includes a new base offense of sharing an intimate photo without consent (so there won’t need to prove intent to distress); and two more serious offences that are based on the intent to cause humiliation or alarm or distress and for sexual gratification.

The proposed changes will also create two specific offenses for threatening and installing equipment to allow images to be taken; as well as criminalize the non-consensual share of manufactured intimate images (aka deepfakes).

The government says around 1 in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced a threat to share intimate images, with more than 28,000 reports of disclosing private sexual images without consent recorded by police between April 2015 and December 2021.

It also points to the rise in abusive deepfake porn — noting one example of a website that virtually strips women naked receiving 38 million hits in the first eight months of 2021.

A growing number of UK lawmakers and campaign groups have been calling for a ban on the use of AI to nudify women since abusive use of the tech emerged — as this BBC report into one such site, called DeepSukebe, reported last year.

Commenting in a statement on the proposed changes, Dominic Raab (deputy prime minister, justice secretary) said:

We must do more to protect women and girls, from people who take or manipulate intimate photos in order to hound or humiliate them.

Our changes will give police and prosecutor the power they need to bring these cowards before the courts and protect girls and women from such vile abuse.

The government’s new deepfake porn offenses will place a legal obligation on platforms and services that fall within incoming online safety legislation to delete this type of material if it has been shared on their platforms without their consent. If they fail to do so, they could face serious penalties under the Online Safety Bill.

Victims of intimate imagery abuse and revenge porn have complained for years about the difficulty and disproportionate effort it takes to find and report images that have been posted online without their consent.

Ministers claim that the proposed changes in UK law will increase protections for victims in this field.

Commenting on a supporting statement, Michelle Donelan (DCMS secretary of state) stated:

Through the Online Safety Bill, I am ensuring that tech firms will have to stop illegal content and protect children on their platforms but we will also upgrade criminal law to prevent appalling offences like cyberflashing.

With these new additions to the Bill our laws will go further to protect children and women, who are disproportionately impacted, from this horrific abuse once and for all.

One point to note is that the Online Safety Bill remains on pause while the government works on drafting amendments related to another aspect of the legislation.

Yesterday, Penny Mordaunt (leader of the House of Commons) confirmed that the bill would be returned to parliament on Monday, December 5.

The government has denied delays will derail the bill’s passage through parliament — but there’s no doubt parliamentary time is tight. It’s not clear when or even if the bill will become UK law. There are only two years before a General Election must take place.

Additionally, parliamentary time must also be found to make the necessary changes to UK law on intimate imagery abuse.

The government has not yet provided a timetable for this component, stating only that it will present the package of changes “as quickly as parliamentary time permits”, and adding that further details will be announced “in due course”.

This report was updated to include the date for the Online Safety Bill’s return to parliament for remaining stages

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