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Sharing 'deepfake' porn images should be a crime, says British law body

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 26 February 2021 00:01 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A green wireframe model covers an actor's lower face during the creation of a synthetic facial reanimation video, known alternatively as a deepfake, in London, Britain February 12, 2019. Reuters TV via REUTERS

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‘Revenge porn’ law failing to keep pace with new forms of digital sexual abuse, government-backed review finds

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Feb 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sharing digitally altered "deepfake" pornographic images should be made a crime, a British government-backed review said on Friday after finding victims were being denied justice because the law has not kept up with new, high-tech forms of abuse.

Publishing intimate photos or videos without consent and with the intent to cause distress - so-called revenge porn - was criminalised in Britain in 2015, but the review identified gaps in the legislation including the issue of fake images.

Such pictures could include editing a headshot of a victim onto a nude or using sophisticated "deepfake" programmes to digitally strip women.

Reforms are also needed to fill in gaps on taking and sharing intimate images with permission, and "sextortion" threats to share them, said the Law Commission, an independent body that recommends reforms to laws in England and Wales.

"For victims, having their intimate images taken or shared without consent can be an incredibly damaging and humiliating experience," Prof. Penney Lewis, criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission, said in a statement.

"Our proposals would reform the existing law and ensure that victims are given the protection they need."

Most victims of image-based abuse and revenge porn are women, who are often targeted by acquaintances or former partners.

Ministers had asked the Law Commission to review criminal laws around taking, making and sharing intimate images, amid concerns technology was driving new forms of sexual abuse and making it easier to create and distribute intimate photos.

The commission's review also found that the current law does not cover cases of image-based abuse driven by motives such as coercion or as a joke.

It proposed a framework of four new offences to criminalise all cases where an intimate image is taken or shared without consent, and called for victims of such abuses to be given lifetime anonymity.

The proposals were welcomed by campaigner Gina Martin, who successfully lobbied to change the law to make taking "upskirt" photos under women's clothes an offence.

"During my time campaigning and lobbying for upskirting to be criminalised, I spent a significant amount of time with victims of intimate image abuse," she said in a statement.

"Like me, they felt that their experience either wasn't understood, captured adequately in law or taken as seriously as it should be by the authorities. This shows a huge gap in our efforts to protect people."

The Law Commission opened a consultation on the proposed changes, after which it will submit a report with its final recommendations to the government, giving the proposals a strong chance of being implemented.

Related stories:

Love, tech and online abuse of women in the time of coronavirus

Once a target of revenge porn, this Danish activist is reclaiming her identity

'Revenge porn' victims could win anonymity in UK courts

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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