Phishing, disinformation and social engineering: Cybercriminals use artificial intelligence to repeatedly spread fake photos, videos and audio recordings on the Internet. The Bavarian state government is now calling for drastic punishment for malicious deepfakes. The backgrounds.

At the beginning of the year, Taylor Swift was once again in the global headlines. This time, however, not for her musical success. Instead, she was the target of sexually explicit deepfake images created and distributed using artificial intelligence and without her consent.

But it's not just famous people who are repeatedly victims of fake media content. More and more people – especially women and girls – are affected by deepfakes. These are usually photos, videos or sound recordings that appear deceptively real. They are used for bullying, revenge porn or to manipulate public opinion.

Punishment for deepfakes: Bavaria demands deprivation of liberty

However, current criminal law only partially protects victims of deepfake attacks. The Bavarian state government now wants to change that. To this end, the cabinet recently decided on a corresponding Federal Council initiative. The corresponding report from May 14, 2024 states that the numerous criminal law regulations do not do justice to the particular injustice of the crimes.

Bavaria is therefore proposing its own regulation against abusive deepfakes, which should be anchored in a new Section 201b of the Criminal Code. The new paragraph provides for prison sentences of up to two years or fines for the violation of personal rights through digital counterfeiting. For serious cases, such as the distribution of pornographic deepfakes, there is a stricter sentence with a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

The state expressly excludes the distribution of deepfakes that serve the “pursuit of overriding legitimate interests” and art, research or reporting.

Bavaria wants to protect personal rights in the digital age

The Bavarian state government estimates that more than 90 percent of abusive deepfakes on the Internet concern pornography and nudity. The victims are therefore predominantly women. The new paragraph is intended to best protect people's personal rights in the digital world.

Deepfakes would also develop into a threat to democracy. This is proven by media reports about manipulated statements from politicians or calls in election campaigns. The new paragraph also covers these cases.

Bavaria had already called for the justice minister conferences in 2021 and 2023 to take the dangers of deepfakes into account when they manipulate public opinion or political discourse.

The federal government has not yet taken any action. Bavaria is therefore once again committed to bringing criminal law up to date and closing the existing gaps in protection with a concrete regulatory proposal.

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