Counterfeit reality: Gartner says new laws must be passed to combat rise of counterfeit reality

December 2004 News

While digital media presents companies with new options for handling information, it also allows unscrupulous entities to create an entire world of digital forgeries that will become virtually impossible to detect through casual inspection. Digital media has created new possibilities in counterfeit reality, with many images no longer easily certified as real. This rise of counterfeit reality increasingly will lead to disputes over interpretations of social, political, legal and business realities that the judicial system and other institutions of conflict resolution are not equipped to resolve, according to Gartner.

Gartner defines counterfeit reality as the digital creation of images, video, documents or sounds that are convincingly realistic representations of things that never occurred or never existed exactly as represented.

In the past, it was reasonable to assume that a photograph was good enough evidence to 'establish a reality' in a court. Today, photographs are scrutinised by experts in court, but few people know how to spot an enhanced, forged or fake image.

"Laws covering admissibility of electronic documents in courts will need to be revamped to anticipate superior digital forgeries," says Daryl Plummer, group vice president and chief fellow at Gartner. "Approaches to document verification, privacy legislation, digital rights management and protection of intellectual property will need to be revolutionised over time."

Gartner analysts say current laws are inadequate to halt abuses. For example, counterfeit reality is having a significant impact on virtual child pornography. The US supreme court turned back efforts by congress to outlaw the creation and distribution of simulated child pornography in a May 2002 ruling. The supreme court ruled that banning any image that appeared to be a child engaged in nude or lascivious acts was infringing on free speech and 'akin to prohibiting dirty thoughts'.

"The existing law puts the burden of proof on the government to prove that these children are real when a computer can easily alter their appearance with just a few keystrokes," Plummer says.

There have been many recent examples of counterfeit reality. Some of these include:

* A fake photograph of John Kerry together with Jane Fonda at an anti-Vietnam War rally in 1970 in Pennsylvania. The photograph angered veterans who said his association with her 34 years ago was a slap in the face of Vietnam War veterans. However, the picture was a hoax. While this has been proved false, the image fulfilled its intent to portray Kerry as an anti-military service candidate.

* Ben Vanderford created a video that depicted himself being beheaded and then forwarded the video to a known Islamic terrorist website. The website contacted various media outlets and within a few hours, major news organisations were reporting another beheading in Iraq. While the FBI is investigating Vanderford, it is unknown what charges he may face.

"Fake reality for sale will be the norm in the next decade. Surprisingly, its growth will not be about technology, but it will be about society's propensity for allowing the deviant to become the norm," Plummer says. "As people come to expect the use of virtual technology instead of realtime human interaction, the psychological outrage expected with counterfeit reality will be diminished."

For more information contact Gillian Dolby, Gartner Africa, 021 790 3526,

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