Dutch Prosecutor concerned over deepfakes blackmail, extortion

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service is concerned that so-called deepfakes will be used for crimes like blackmail, extortion or even election meddling as the technology becomes more and more accessible. "We have to realize that if we see something, we can no longer just believe it", prosecutor Lodewijk van Zwieten said to NOS. "Soon you can easily make a video of something that did not actually happen."

Deepfakes are videos that have been manipulated with smart algorithms to replace someone's head with someone else's, or make someone say something they didn't. Making such videos is becoming increasingly easy. Last week an app went viral in China with which anyone could put their head into the movie scene of their choice.

"This kind of app is fun, but if you use these kinds of videos to harm someone, you cross a line", prosecutor Van Zwieten said. "If we all have an app on our phone that can do this, it will be easy to make a video where you let someone else do something criminal." And that in itself can be a crime - libel or defamation for example. 

Already famous women - so far almost solely women in practice - find themselves in porn movies because someone put their head in it. According to Van Zwieten, this will be even more of a problem once the technology is accessible to "horny teenagers" making such videos of each other. That is also a crime, because virtual pornography involving minors is illegal in the Netherlands.

Deepfakes can also be used to extort someone - threatening to release a video of them doing something illegal if they don't pay. Or someone can be arrested by accident due to a fake video of them committing a crime. The technology can also be used by foreign governments to spread misinformation and influence elections, Van Zwieten fears.

"It's a waiting game to see how big this technology is going to be", the prosecutor said to NOS. "But if you look at how many threats and insults there are on social media, I am concerned about this technology."

Though he doesn't think deepfakes need to be banned. "Social media are also used for threats, but they are not prohibited. It is not about the technology, but what you do with it." Extra regulations are also not necessary as of yet, Van Zwieten said. "We will get through with existing criminal law. But we must have a debate about this technology."