Dec 1, 2023

What We Can Learn From Rashmika Mandana’s “Deepfake” controversy

Recently, actor Rashmika Mandana was targeted in one of the most covert and sinister forms of online abuse; deepfake technology. A mix of “deep learning” and fake content, deep fakes manouevre artificial intelligence technology to create false images of a person with such close resemblance that it can become impossible to tell them apart. From face swap, to altering features like skin colour, hair length, etc., deep fake images can be a powerful tool to modify the digital personality of a person with or without their consent. While one can’t help but marvel at the progress made by artificial intelligence in recent times, it is important to be mindful of the extreme dangers it poses to the safety of Internet users. 

The growing number of cases of online harassment and abuse by leaking or threatening to release deep fake engineered images of someone, have raised concerns around what legal protection is available against deep fake images?

Existing Laws That Can Be Used To Protect Yourself Against Deepfakes

While exisiting Indian laws do not explicitly punish the use of deep fake technology, unethical practices using deep fake technology can be prosecuted under the following legal provisions: 

  • Deep fakes are a form of identity theft and if someone uses your photos and personal information to impersonate you, then it will be punishable under section 66C and 66D of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) and section 420 and section 468 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”). Punishment for such crimes can be imprisonment upto 3 years and a fine amounting to Rs 1 lakh or less. 
  • Deep fake images are also used to sexually harass women and cause harm to their reputation. This often takes the form of making and sharing fake sexually coloured and obscene images of women. This is a form of sexual harassment and can be punished under section 67 and 67A of the IT Act and section 354A of the IPC. You can also file a complaint under section 500 of the IPC for defamation. If found guilty, the punishment for this can extend to five years of jail time and a fine amount upto Rupees Ten lakhs on first conviction and seven years of imprisonment and upto Rupees  Ten lakhs as fine upon subsequent convictions. 
  • If deep fake images fester a feeling of hatred towards women from a certain religion, then they will be punished with a jail term of upto three years and fine or both, under sections 295A, 153A and 153B of the IPC. In case such images malign a woman from a particular scheduled caste or a tribe, then it may be punished with imprisonment extending upto five years and a fine.
  • Tragically, deep fake images don’t seem to spare even young children. In such cases, it becomes a form of aggravated crime. Especially, if these images are used to sexualise children, then they can be punished with a jail sentence of upto five years and a fine under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. 

Reporting These Crimes

We must proactively report any incident of deep fakes for both ourselves as well as others. 

  • You can file an FIR to the nearest police station. Every police station has a designated cyber cell who will look into the complaint. 
  • If you don’t have access to a police station, you can also choose to file a complaint on the Online Portals like Ministry of Home Affairs’ Online Complaint Portal or the digital police’s portal
  • You must also report, restrict and block any suspicious accounts or activity on any of your social media channels. 

To know more about how to counter deep fakes and other forms of online violence against women, read our guide here.