Deepfake porn might finally be made illegal

4 mins
12 Jul 2022
Deepfake porn might finally be made illegal

A change in the law is long overdue in the UK, where revenge porn has been illegal since 2015

words Louis Staples

The digital revolution has bettered our lives in so many ways: we can now get food delivered to our doors, argue with strangers about politics and have entire conversations through Gifs and voice notes.

In terms of sex and relationships, it’s created new communities and platforms where people can make new connections or discover more about what turns them on. But it’s also created digital-specific issues, like cyberflashing – air-dropping explicit photos to someone else’s phone without consent – which is set to become a crime in England and Wales. This follows image-based sex abuse (known otherwise as revenge porn) – distributing explicit photos of another person without their consent – which was made illegal in 2015.

There is also the issue of “deepfake porn”. This is when a person’s face is nonconsensually superimposed onto pornographic imagery. Now, the Law Commission of England and Wales is calling for deepfake porn to become a criminal offence too. “Sharing intimate images of a person without their consent can be incredibly distressing and harmful for victims, with the experience often scarring them for life,” said Prof Penney Lewis, the law commissioner for criminal law. “Current laws on taking or sharing sexual or nude images of someone without their consent are inconsistent, based on a narrow set of motivations and do not go far enough to cover disturbing and abusive new behaviours born in the smartphone era.”

Looking more widely, there are also calls to make the law more consistent. “Upskirting” – taking a photo up a woman’s skirt without her consent – is illegal, but “downblousing” – taking a photo of a woman’s cleavage – is not. And at present, in England and Wales it’s technically legal to share pornographic deepfakes or images which have been doctored to include someone’s face without their consent.

The commission recommends that anyone who intentionally takes or shares intimate images without consent should be criminalised. They seek to offer up to three years’ imprisonment for the most serious offenders and lifetime anonymity for all victims.

Campaigner Emily Hunt, who is also an adviser to the Ministry of Justice, welcomed the reforms. “Taking or sharing sexual or nude images of someone without their consent can disrupt lives and inflict lasting damage,” she told Dazed. “A change in the law is long overdue and it’s right that under these proposals, all perpetrators of these acts would face prosecution.”

Vanessa Morse, the CEO of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation, added that the porn sites must be required by law to verify that everyone appearing in uploads has consented to it. “We know that the pornography industry cannot be trusted to self-regulate and it has facilitated and profited from this horrific practice for years,” she said. “Crucially, pornography platforms must be made, by law, to verify the age and consent of those featured in uploads. This is the only way that nonconsensual material will be prevented from being uploaded in the first place… The government has the opportunity to impose these changes on the pornography industry through the online safety bill, but it is currently choosing not to.”

Deepake porn is already illegal in Scotland. Last year, experts told the BBC that altered porn images had the potential to become an “epidemic”, with significant dangers of harassing women. Prof McGlynn, of Durham University, studies the law across the UK "If we don't stop this now, we don't try and change things now, this will become the next epidemic of abuse,” she said. It seems inevitable that, with technology evolving so quickly alongside new patterns in making and distributing porn, the law will always be one step behind. But whether it’s IRL or online, there is nothing sexier – or more important – than consent.

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