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Interview: Advocate Chaitanya Rohilla on why he filed a petition against deepfakes at the Delhi High Court

MediaNama spoke to Rohilla to understand the motivations behind his PIL and the course of action he envisions for the government.

On December 4, the Hindu reported that a Delhi-based lawyer, Chaitanya Rohilla had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) at the Delhi High Court against the unregulated use of artificial intelligence (AI) and deepfakes. The report mentions that the case has been listed for hearing on January 8, 2024. In the meantime, MediaNama spoke to Rohilla to understand the motivations behind his legal action and the course of action he envisions for the government. Here are some noteworthy excerpts from the interview that provide a deeper understanding of his perspective and the issues at hand.

Note: These excerpts have been edited for clarity and brevity.

For a better understanding of Rohilla’s stance, watch our video interview with him.

What did your petition seek to accomplish?

I have sought some grounds as to why this thing should be regulated or till the time it has not been regulated by the legislature, has not been regulated by the government, there should be a ban on this. If you’re not imposing a ban, at least do something so that we know whether what we are seeing on the internet is a deepfake video or a real video. At least there should be some watermark or something about it so that we can know what is real and what is a deepfake.

Companies like Microsoft and Adobe have been discussing digital watermarking for AI-generated images, but such watermarks can be removed by taking a screenshot, what is your perspective on that?

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When these companies want to do something about an issue, they actually do work on it. I’ll give you an instance. There is a feature on WhatsApp wherein you can select if you send any image and you send it only for once. If the other person tries to take a screenshot of that image, they won’t be able to take that screenshot. That means there also they have done something about the screenshot issue.

If a ban were to be implemented, what do you suppose would be its impact on the real use cases of AI tools?

If there is a technology, if there is a facility out there for you, it will be misused. It will only be misused when it has not been regulated. Regulated by whom? The nodal ministry, the nodal person or whosoever is in the authority who should regulate it. So you start regulating it. I’m not saying that you just take it out of everyone’s hands. I’m saying you ban [it] in a way that you start regulating it and everyone has to apply for permissions. The government will have a track that these many people have the technology with themselves and they are using it for a specific purpose.

Let’s say, filmmakers want to use the technology for their films. Let them take permission from the government. Let them do it. They will have to put out all their things, why and how they want to use this technology, and it would be for that specific purpose.

Watch the full interview here:

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Are Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, sufficient to regulate deepfakes?

Right now they’re not sufficient. See, the government was supposed to bring in specific legislation to regulate artificial intelligence, and it was to be called the Digital India Act. The government is taking steps, but we have to see at what pace the technology is moving forward, at what pace the government is taking steps, and at what time the government has started to take steps. When this issue came up before the public at large, [it was only then that] they started.

I’ll tell you something. NSAI is the National Strategic Authority on Artificial Intelligence. In the year 2018, they highlighted the issue of artificial intelligence. They highlighted the issue of deepfakes back in 2018, we are in 2023 now. At that time they had suggested that yes, we need certain regulations, let alone a legislation, before a legislation comes up, we need some regulations.

The government is currently taking steps to urge platforms to take action against deepfakes. What is your perspective on the government asking for platform action as a measure to combat deepfakes?

I’m going to share my instance only with you because that will be concrete. The government in the WhatsApp Privacy Policy case, what they did when I approached the court, they approached WhatsApp and they wrote a big letter to them [the company] and they asked them, Whatsapp did not listen to them [the government]. They said, okay, fine, whatever the courts will do, we’ll take an instance from that and we’ll do accordingly.

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[For context: Rohilla is referring to a public interest litigation he filed at the Delhi High Court in 2021 wherein he had stated that WhatsApp’s privacy policy at the time violated the right to privacy of its users]

Mainly the government asking platforms [to take down deepfakes] is not going to be enough. I have made a specific prayer in my petition regarding this thing also that you have to make the platforms accountable for whatever they are doing. And if you [the government] are asking them that you [the platform] listen, you are not going to let whatever deepfakes be uploaded on your website. And if they [the deepfakes] come up, you will be taken to task. They have to be held accountable. There has to be a regulator that matches the pace with all the changes in technology or changes in deepfakes that are coming up. Someone has to be there to hold them to be accountable. Without that, it’s not going to happen.

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