Wednesday, May 15, 2002

And now... oversold fears of new technology: The Boston Globe rounds up the usual suspects to discuss some new technology that can make it look as if Peter Jennings really is telling America about your roommate's blind date --- if you have enough video of Jennings staring straight into a camera, not moving the rest of his face much. Kathleen Hall Jamieson thinks this pretty much puts the kibosh on video as evidence of, well, anything:

There is a certain point at which you raise the level of distrust to where it is hard to communicate through the medium... We will probably have to revert to a method common in the Middle Ages, which is eyewitness testimony. And there is probably something healthy in that.

And even computer scientist Demetri Terzopoulos thinks

... we are on a collision course with ethics. If you can make people say things they didn't say, then potentially all hell breaks loose.

What a stunning development. We have never before had the ability to convincingly fake a video. Faking Osama bin Laden's beard is far beyond the capabilities of contemporary makeup technology, even if you're shooting with a lousy camera.

But seriously, folks.

Society in general, and the legal system in particular, have been dealing with evidence in potentially forged media for centuries --- not just physical letters, but electronic stuff as well. Which is why, among other things, the legal system has procedures for tracking the chain of custody of the evidence in criminal cases, to make sure that the evidence is what it is purported to be. (Forging email convincingly is not hard, and at least one court case, alleging sexual harrassment at Oracle, has turned on such evidence. The forgery was detected by checking the email headers against the logs of the systems from which it was purportedly sent --- but if you're paranoid enough, you can certainly wonder how hard it would be to alter the logs).

Besides, eyewitness testimony has problems of its own.

(No, I don't think that video was faked, thanks for asking. A few subtle changes to the script would have made it much more convenient for the spooks, without changing its credibility in the least).


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