Legal academic wins €1.5m grant to study deepfakes and human rights

Legal academic wins €1.5m grant to study deepfakes and human rights

Professor Yvonne McDermott Rees

A Swansea law expert has been awarded €1.5 million to examine how public perceptions of deepfakes – AI-manipulated images, videos or audio – affect trust in user-generated evidence of human rights violations.

Yvonne McDermott Rees, professor of law at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law at Swansea University, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant. 

User-generated evidence, such as videos recorded by witnesses on their mobile phones, plays an important role in legal trials worldwide. This kind of evidence has transformed our ways of knowing about mass human rights violations and holding perpetrators to account.  

Yet, at the same time, the public is increasingly confronted with examples of deepfakes – realistic images, videos, or audio recordings created using machine learning technology – which are only likely to become more advanced and difficult to detect as the technology progresses. 

Through a methodology combining legal analysis of trials with mass online experiments and mock jury trials, Professor McDermott Rees’s project, TRUE (TRust in User-generated Evidence), will develop the first systematic account of trust in user-generated evidence, in the specific context of its use in human rights accountability processes.  

TRUE will run from 2022-2027, enabling it to track the impact of advances in technology over time. 

Professor McDermott Rees said: “Scholarship to date has expressed a concern that the rise in deepfakes will lead to mass mistrust in user-generated evidence, and that this in turn will decrease its usefulness in legal proceedings. This may well be the case, but no study has yet tested that assumption.  

“I am so pleased that the ERC has chosen to generously support TRUE in tackling a major evidence gap that urgently needs to be addressed, and I am looking forward to commencing this important research together with a dedicated research team.” 

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “With this very first round of long-awaited grants, I am glad to see the European Research Council remaining a flagship for excellent and curiosity-driven science under the Horizon Europe programme. I am looking forward to seeing what new breakthroughs and opportunities the new ERC laureates will bring, and how they will inspire young people to follow their curiosity and make discoveries for the benefit of us all.” 

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