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MPs raise concerns in Lok Sabha about deepfakes

After discussions about the use and regulation of facial recognition, Lok Sabha MPs have begun asking the government about measures to tackle deepfakes.

Lok Sabha MPs during 2024’s Budget session asked union ministries on future regulation to deal with the problem of deepfakes in India. The influx of the repetitive questions regarding the number of deepfake cases recorded so far and regulatory progress on this front nonetheless highlights the growing concern among the public regarding deepfakes.

No separate data on deepfake incidents: MPs asked the government about the number of deepfakes in the last three years. It’s interesting that despite talks of deepfakes being prevalent since 2019, the NCRB is yet to create a separate category on deep fakes. Still, the crime reports provided information on defamation/ morphing, fake profile and fake news on social media incidents that are related to deepfakes from 2020 to 2022. Here’s what the data showed:

Defamation/ Morphing – 15 people were arrested for this crime in 2020 and 51 cases were registered. In 2021, the number of arrests went down to 13 people. The number of cases also went down to 31. In 2022, as many as 43 people were arrested under this criminal provision and 61 cases were registered. However, there were zero convictions during these three years under this provision.

Fake profile – 65 people were arrested and only 2 people were convicted under this provision in 2020. The number of arrested then declined to 47 people and a single conviction in 2021. In 2023, 50 people were arrested for incidents related to fake profiles but none were convicted. Interestingly, in this three-year period, the highest number of fake profile cases were registered in 2022 with 157 cases. 123 cases were registered in 2021 and 149 cases were registered in 2020.

Fake news on social media – In 2020, as many as 213 people were arrested under this provision and only one person was convicted. In 2021, the number of arrested went down to 145 arrests with zero convictions. In 2022, 179 people were arrested with 31 convictions. Fake news went from 578 cases in 2020 to 179 cases in 2021 and then to 230 cases in 2022.

Barring incidents of fake news, the data indicates that cases of morphing and fake profile seem to be rising once again since 2021. While 2023 data is not out yet, there was extensive media coverage last year about the number of incidents where deep fakes of celebrities, actors, actresses were used on social media. All of this goes to show the growing prevalnce of this technology in the AI age.

So what is the government doing about this? This is summarily what a group of MPs asked the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in a question set titled ‘Action Against Deepfakes.’

The questions asked were as follows:

  • whether the Government has formulated any strategy to tackle the menace of Deepfakes;
  • if so, the details thereof and if not, the reasons therefor; and
  • the details of the corrective measures taken/being taken by the Government in this regard?

MeitY mentioned no new strategy or policy to address the issue of deepfake. The last move made by MeitY on this front was the issuance of advisories to social media intermediaries on December 26, 2023. As per the document, platforms can lose their safe harbor powers if they do not ensure compliance with the prescribed due diligence and Grievance Reporting Mechanism under the IT Rules, 2021. However, we are yet to come across new regulations for deepfakes as promised by Union Minister for IT Ashwini Vaishnaw on November 23, 2023. For now, it seems that dismissal of safe harbor is the only trump in the government’s hand when it comes to deepfakes.

On the industry side, BSA, The Software Alliance wrote to MeitY on February 2, 2024 advising against a one-size-fits-all approach to regulate deepfakes. It reminded the government that the varying types od intermediaries cannot address the deepfake issue in the same manner. It also recommended that alternative solutions to suspension of safe harbor, like watermarking AI-generated content, etc.

Experts sceptical of alternative solutions: During MediaNama’s Deepfakes and Democracy event held on January 17, Gautham Koorma, machine learning engineer and researcher from UC Berkeley, Tarunima Prabhakar, co-founder of Tattle Civic Technologies, and other had talked about how even watermarking is at times ineffective in tackling deepfakes since these markers can be easily broken. Similarly, detecting deepfakes using algorithms may not be a long-lasting solution since AI may develop to a point where it completely bypasses technical detection.

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I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

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