EU to Criminalize Non-Consensual Explicit Deepfakes

European Union flags wave outside the government building.

The European Parliament and European Council reached an agreement Tuesday to criminalize sexually explicit deepfakes, an essential legal milestone as artificially generated images flourish.

More specifically, the agreement centers on new rules regarding domestic violence and violence against women, both online and offline. Cyberviolence is a key target of the proposal, which was first introduced in 2022, “including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images (including deepfakes), cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, misogynous hate speech and ‘cyber-flashing.'”

“These criminalizations will in particular help victims of these forms of cyberviolence in Member States that did not yet criminalize these acts. This is an urgent issue to address, given the exponential spread and dramatic impact of violence online,” a release from the European Commission explains.

In addition to criminalizing these acts, the move seeks to prevent such matters from happening altogether, especially by focusing on digital literacy.

As AI-generated images have become more accessible, so too have fakes of sexually explicit photos of real people, known as deepfakes. These can further be made without the subject’s consent. Sexually explicit deepfakes have affected many from underage students to celebrities like Taylor Swift. The latter example also proved to be a big enough scandal for Senators to introduce a bill criminalizing non-consensual sexually explicit deepfake images, much like in the EU.

“Although the imagery may be fake, the harm to the victims from the distribution of sexually explicit deepfakes is very real. Victims have lost their jobs, and may suffer ongoing depression or anxiety,” Senator Dick Durbin said in a release regarding the bill at the time.

However, the breakneck speed of technological progress moves much faster than the law. The EU bill won’t take effect until 2027, according to Politico‘s reporting. Further, the bill still needs to be approved by the representatives of EU member states at the Council, according to a release from the Council of the EU. “The final law is also pending adoption in Council and European Parliament,” the release adds.

Still, both measures, in the EU and the U.S., mark the first signs of legal progress in litigating a new issue.

“Today’s proposal brings significant changes for all women in Europe,” Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency said in the release. “It is an important step against many forms of violence in real world but mainly it brings a major change in an online world by criminalizing certain forms of cyber-violence. The latest developments show it is high time.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.