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lying and technology

This post over at newsweek raises an interesting question…

Can we trust photos in an age where photo-editing technology is not only highly advanced, but free?

The case of the extremely-strange-looking animal is one thing – there are (probably) ways of getting at whether or not such a thing exists other than arguing over the veracity of the pic; but what about photos of – say – someone committing a crime? Useless in a court of law?

Things that make ya go hmmm…

14 replies on “lying and technology”

I would think that a printed copy of a digital photo would be useless in a court of law if (i) the original media or (ii) the digital image file had not been inspected by a forensic expert. But in the case of either (i) or (ii), there are ways and means to detect photo manipulation.

Good to see you linking to the gimp, btw. I’ve been getting in touch with my neglected inner artist lately, redesigning the header for my blog, and I’m enjoying pottering around with the gimp again. I need to get my tablet working in Intrepid though; that sun image is supposed to be the eye of a phoenix which I have yet to get around to drawing up…


Dale: There is a whole new field of forensic science to do with digital image manipulation. Most (if not all) fake digital imagery leaves a foot print of some kind.

Thanks Dom,
Gimp seems good, I loaded it and another one (that looked – at a glance – even better) on my laptop the other day. Just amazing how these quality programs can be free…

Yeah, good to hear. I think I heard about some of that somewhere before. But, would they be able to trace the ‘footprint’ if it was a print-out of a digital photo? – especially a somewhat low-quality (or damaged?) print-out?

As #1 and #2 have pointed out, from a digital forensics point of view here are ways to determine if images have been manipulated. HOWEVER… in your hypothetical court case, much like the Olympics, success or failure depends on how well you can cover your tracks, and of course the resources and expertise that the opposing party has access to.

In a domestic situation for instance, I might choose to drop your image into a photo of someone tagging my fence and then proceed to the small claims tribunal for the costs of a repaint. Assuming I’m convincing enough, and not struck down by lightning for trying to scam a man of the cloth, it is unlikely that you would engage forensic expertise to disprove my image, as the costs of doing so would far outweigh the reparation value.

On a more public note, I might create a more convincing series of images of a public figure in a conceivable (but false) situation which is likely to damage their reputation. Now, from here – I can go in a couple of directions, I can either directly seek to blackmail the public figure in exchange for not making the (fake) images public, or I could just skip to step to and make the images available to the public/media. The first option is more likely to benefit me directly as hush money would have a good chance being paid for the reason that option two would likely damage the persons reputation due to the simple fact that people have become more lazy as they have been exposed to more information. (Hmm – blog post for me in there somewhere). People don’t cross check information to the degree they used to, and neither do the people writing the stories. It is because of this shift that people now remember the headline and seldom the retraction – and it is THAT which is dangerous. While a public figure could likely afford to forensically disprove images, by the time they did, the headlines would have run, the speculation would have begun and the trial by media and public opinion would have already tried and convicted the hapless subject – all in the absence of rigorous proof. A retraction or correction would be printed, but as is now par for the course, this would be buried on a page deep inside the offending publication – again, the damage would have been done, there’s no smoke without fire… right? right?! And there’s the reason that we have a responsibility as individuals to be *less* trusting of what we see (Olympics opening ceremony fireworks being a recent example).

GIMP has extended image manipulation programs into the realm of ‘the rest of us’, Audacity has done the same for audio manipulation. I would hope that open source community will find a way to make the validation of images more accessible for the rest of us, and help restore some our lost innocence… wouldn’t that be nice?

Lying has become ubiquitous with the human race. We need new technologies to detect untruthfulness. Should anyone care I have published a post entitled “New ideas for lie-detection technologies.”

Spiritually yours,

I’ve been considering the same question for some time now. I believe that it could also apply to audio recordings. And the concept of dropping the image/sound down to a lower quality medium to make the edits untraceable seems like a plausible approach – especially for someone who knows what would make a forgery detectable in the first place. The old adage, “seeing is believing,” has become an outdated concept.

Dale ponders:

1 – what makes a post get ‘featured’ status at Always a boost to hits/comments… hmmm…

2a – ‘ithaca real estate broker’ could appear to be a sneaky-comment-link-placement…

2b – …but it actually appears to represent someone actually reading the post and thinking about their comment. At any rate, cheers ‘i.r.e.b.’ for the comment.



@TheGodGuy – yes, the technologies exist, I agree they should be made more accessible, but do we need to try to solve what is essentially a morality issue with the application of technology? – I hope not… it’s all too ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ for my liking.

@IREB – audio detection for voice stress analysis already exists and you CAN buy it as a module for your cellular phone… Again, would prefer to work on re balancing the morality than resolving the issue via technology.

good thoughts Rob,
Technology (at whatever level – at whatever time – in whatever place) simply increases our power. Power to do either good or evil – to tell the truth or to deceive…

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