Rajat Sharma moves Delhi HC against non-regulation of deepfake technology

A division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora has sought a response from the union government through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology

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Delhi: The Delhi High Court on May 8, 2024, issued notice on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by senior journalist Rajat Sharma against non-regulation of deepfake technology in the country.

The PIL has been moved by journalist Rajat Sharma, who is the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Independent News Service Private Limited (INDIA TV).

A division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora has sought a response from the union government through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

During the hearing, the bench orally remarked that “this is a major problem” and asked the central government if it was willing to act on the issue.

“Political parties are complaining about this as well. You are not taking any action…,” the court said.

The plea states that the proliferation of deepfake technology poses significant threats to various aspects of society, including misinformation and disinformation campaigns, undermining integrity of public discourse and democratic processes, potential use in fraud and identity theft as well as harm to individuals' reputations and privacy.

“All the threats listed above are compounded when a deepfake is made of an influential person such as a politician, sportsman, actor, or any other public figure capable of influencing public opinion. This is even more so in the case of a person such as the Petitioner who is visible on television on a daily basis and on whose statements the public has come to place faith in,” the plea stated.

It added that there is a pressing need for strict enforcement and proactive action to mitigate the potential harms associated with their misuse.

The plea further contended that the absence of adequate regulation and safeguards against the misuse of deepfake technology poses a grave risk to the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India, including the right to freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and the right to a fair trial.

“The absence of a dedicated mechanism to deal with deepfakes has led to a vacuum, which in turn is violating the personal liberty and privacy of the citizens of this country. The state has a positive obligation to ensure that the right to privacy is not impeded due to the conduct of private parties,” the PIL reads.

It contended that even though the union government had made a statement of intent to formulate regulation for dealing with deepfakes and synthetic content back in November 2023, nothing of the sort has seen the light of day thus far.

The PIL seeks a direction from the union government to identify and block public access to the applications, software, platforms and websites enabling the creation of deep fakes;

A further direction is sought to appoint a dedicated nodal officer for receiving complaints regarding deepfakes and acting upon a complaint within 12 hours and within six hours in the case of a complaint received regarding content featuring a public figure.

The plea also seeks a direction on the union government to issue a directive to all social media intermediaries to take immediate action to take down deepfakes upon the receipt of a complaint from the person concerned.

A direction is also sought to ensure that the platforms’ PR websites enabling the creation of deep fakes disclose that the content has been generated by AI either by Watermark or some other effective methodology.

The PIL also seeks the issuance of guidelines to ensure that any access to artificial Intelligence and deepfakes is carried out strictly in accordance with the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in Part-III of the Constitution till relevant Rules are framed by the Centre.