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Watch out for ‘DeepFakes’ in virtual court hearings

by Camerfirma

By: Héctor José García Santiago. Director of the Government and ICT Observatory of the Pontifical Xavierian University. Executive Chairman of Camerfirma Colombia. www.camerfirma.co

Algorithm-based software that uses artificial intelligence (AI), impersonates people, even the dead.

It all started on the social bookmarking site, Reddit Inc.

A user under the name of DeepFake published the first of these videos, using an actress’s face in a pornographic video. The idea stuck and gained popularity through the FakeApp, which bases its technology on artificial intelligence. To be able to replace one face with another, you only require a decent number of photographs of the face you want to use.

The program substitutes faces and while it can be fun to play a prank on friends or family, it is also highly dangerous as it can be used by anyone. Thousands of these videos are posted on YouTube, evidence that it is possible to impersonate anyone’s identity easily with a single click.

Virtual court hearings

In Colombia, as in various other countries, virtual hearings have been implemented as a mechanism to advance legal proceedings and avoid the paralysis of the judicial system. In Colombia, Decree 806/2020 was issued to enable the use of all these mechanisms, including virtual hearings. However, nothing was mentioned regarding the digital security of such hearings, which entail various technological risks that could have direct consequences on their legality. One of these risks is identity theft, which could arise from this type of technology that enables the replacement of people’s faces.

This matter, the identity of the people appearing in virtual hearings, is of vital importance and thus requires the implementation of the necessary technological mechanisms to ensure a genuine identity validation process for the parties participating in the hearing. Strong authentication is required for this, with the use of two or more possible authentication elements as illustrated in the diagram:

Source: Camerfirma

What’s in store for Colombia in terms of identity validation in virtual hearings?

In Colombia, based on Decree 620/2020 and in order to guarantee the identity of the parties in remote proceedings, such as virtual hearings, the use of authentication mechanisms pursuant to Law 527/1999 and the use of facial biometrics by consulting the databases of the National Register (Decree 019/2012 and Decree 2106/2019) will be mandatory in the future.

Namely, guarantee levels 3 (high) and 4 (very high) of the digital authentication services model will be applicable, and this robust authentication will ensure full certainty regarding the identity of the participating parties, based on the use of digital certificates and facial biometrics through digital OnBoarding platforms that make it possible to carry out a life test of the subject and check ID document data against the National Identification Archive.

The digital OnBoarding validation processes and the citizenship card will provide certainty regarding the identity of the parties, through consultation of the Register Office databases. In addition, the signing of procedural documents, including video and audio files, will require the use of a mechanism, such as a digital signature, that guarantees the authenticity and integrity of the documents to be stored in the electronic file.

In addition to these systems, it will be necessary to proceed promptly with the certified digitalisation of the judicial files, which have guaranteed authenticity and integrity, in other words, are guaranteed to be free from alteration or tampering, as well as providing transcribers to convert the hearing into text, which will also have to be stored securely.

What’s happening in the rest of the world?

In Spain, they have issued the Guide for remote judicial proceedings, where digital security is of special importance. These guidelines highlight the need to preserve the confidentiality, integrity and authenticity of the procedural videos, for which they use a Hearing Recording System that enables the recording of all actions, the creation of copies for the parties and the signing of the virtual hearing with an advanced electronic signature (digital signature in Colombia), thus guaranteeing the integrity of the recorded material.

These systems are supplemented with large high-resolution (HD) screens, omni-directional microphones, and HD cameras so that the quality of the recordings is sufficient and there are no problems in terms of virtualisation, on the part of the attendees. In addition, they offer the possibility of accessing the judicial files and referring to the documents at any time.

The concept of quality videoconferencing systems has been introduced, understood as two-way simultaneous communication of image and sound, as well as visual, auditory and verbal interactions, between two geographically distant persons or groups of people, ensuring in all cases the possibility of exchange of arguments between the parties and the safeguarding of the right of defence, when so agreed by the judge or court.

Where are we at in Colombia?

As in the rest of the world, we are facing a pandemic that has obliged us to use all available technological resources to unblock the judicial system, but we cannot afford to neglect digital security. The Superior Council of the Judiciary is making progress in this regard and is already storing audios and videos of hearings, safely, but there is still a long way to go towards the digitalisation of justice which requires a structural reform that prioritises alternative means for the resolution of conflicts and the existence of true ‘digital native’ courts. That is where we will be using electronic and digital signatures, digital OnBoarding, life tests, artificial intelligence and a regulated blockchain, with the participation of trusted third parties such as Digital Certification Entities (Law 527/1999).

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