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Graphics Advances Make Identifying Real Images Difficult 531

Posted by timothy
from the click-here-to-convict-your-enemy dept.
destinyland writes "The FBI's geeks admitted they were nervous over computer-generated images at a recent forensics conference. In court they're now arguing that a jury 'can tell' if an image is real or computer-generated — which marks the current boundary between legal and illegal. But reporter Debbie Nathan argues that that distinction is getting fuzzy, and that geeks will inevitably make it obsolete." Note: some of the linked (computer-generated) images may be disturbing.
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Graphics Advances Make Identifying Real Images Difficult

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  • by jacquesm (154384) <j@NOsPAm.ww.com> on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:09AM (#23680789) Homepage
    I'm assuming 100% clicktrough...

    "Note: some of the linked (computer-generated) images may be disturbing."

    • by Yetihehe (971185) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:11AM (#23680809)
      Not anymore, the site is slashdotted, you insensitive clods! Think of all the (computer generated) children!
      • Re:with that tagline (Score:5, Informative)

        by xaxa (988988) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:39AM (#23681149)
        A computer generated baby (clothed ;-)
        http://debbienathan.com.nyud.net:8080/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/display_16329441.jpg [nyud.net]

        I couldn't get the rest of the images into the Corel Cache before the server went down completely.

        Here's the text from the blog post:

        Child porn: real or virtual? A day in the burbs and the forensics conference

        (ALL IMAGES IN THIS POST ARE COMPUTER GENERATED)

        To go right to the real or virtual article, skip all the emo in italics. I wont be offended!

        A funny thing happened to me this weekend in Huntington, Long Island. Iâ(TM)d taken a commuter train there from Manhattan, to interview someone in a neighborhood thatâ(TM)s walking distance from the local railroad station. (In case youre wondering why I havent posted lately, Im really busy with other work these days. Why else would I go to Huntington?) So I was hoofing it down New York Avenue when a cabbie screeched up and offered me a ride â" for free. âoeThanks,â I said, leaning into his window. âoeBut why?â âoeBecause you have to pass the day-labor site. Thereâ(TM)s lots of men there from Central America. They yell bad words to women going by.â

        Iâ(TM)m 57 years old and slowly shrinking, maybe, but people seldom mistake me for a shrinking violet. I can deal with a few catcalls and âoeMamiâ(TM)sâ (assuming my wrinkled old self could evoke them in the first place). I tried to elucidate my philosophy to the driver: Itâ(TM)s always worth a few bad words to learn about stuff â" then communicate the stuff to others.

        Well lah-dee-dah, youâ(TM)re probably saying. Nice story, but whatâ(TM)s the point? Especially when the real subject of this post isChild Porn®.

        So hereâ(TM)s the point. Lately, when it comes to writing about child pornography issues, I suspect Iâ(TM)ve caught Huntingtonâ(TM)s Taxi Disease from my colleagues in the journalism biz. I notice that whenever I get an urge to report on the subject, I start worrying that if I publish it, Iâ(TM)ll hear âoebad wordsâ from people from âoeCentral-Weirdo Americaâ â" people who actually like child porn. Iâ(TM)ll have to read their emails (some of which make interesting points about free speech, the fourth amendment, government repression, etc.), then decide whether or not to post them. And if I post, the journos of MSM-villeâ"my colleagues! might look askance. After all, some have already told me that they, themselves, will not write about child pornography for precisely this reason: it freaks them out to get follow-up email from the pedos.

        Iâ(TM)m also afraid my colleagues will tsk-tsk about why I write about this icky subject in the first place. âoeIs she obsessed or something?â they could be thinking. Perhaps they ask why I donâ(TM)t insert boiler plate into the first paragraphs of my articles. Riffs like, âoeOf course, child porn is the most horrible thing in the world, and the people involved deserve strong punishment.â This is supposed to show everyone the writer is a normal person who does not want to hear from pedos. I try to avoid such verbiage because I think itâ(TM)s knee jerk and stupid. Besides, Iâ(TM)m extremely reluctant to close off communication with anyone. I get some of my best tips about the malfunctioning of our various civic institutions from people close to those institutions â" who are often criminals, both apprehended and as yet uncaught. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022100/ [slashdot.org]">M is still one of my favorite movies.)

        I went to a conference a couple months ago where law enforcement officials gave fascinating presentations

  • So SFW, or NSFW? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by celery stalk (617764) <micglin.gmail@com> on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:12AM (#23680817)
    Disturbing doesn't really give us much to go on, and I don't feel like being the guinea pig.
  • by neomage86 (690331) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:13AM (#23680835)
    I thought the purpose of child-porn laws were to ensure that no children were hurt (a fairly noble goal).

    As long as no children are hurt in the production of these images, why does it matter how real they look?
    • by mdmkolbe (944892) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:20AM (#23680941)

      The problem is when it's impossible to tell the real from the fake. At that point you couldn't prosecute any of the real ones because they'll just say it's a really good fake.

    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:23AM (#23680973) Homepage Journal

      As long as no children are hurt in the production of these images, why does it matter how real they look?
      Because put a virtual image that looks real in front of a jury, and if they can't tell the difference, they may put an innocent person in prison. Imagine if the virtual child-pr0n showed a guy that had nothing to do with it's creation molesting a child? Talk about your witch hunts!

      Also, think about this. If you look at pr0n, doesn't it make you horny?

      Now, let's talk about child pr0n. Doesn't matter whether it's virtual or not -- if you're a pedophile, it will still make you want to go out and act on that, just as 'normal' pr0n does for the non-sexual-deviant.

      Do you really think that stimulating child predators with pr0n -- even virtual pr0n -- is a good idea?
      • by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo AT gmail DOT com> on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:32AM (#23681071) Homepage Journal
        There's a big gap between "not a good idea" and "illegal."
      • by ArikTheRed (865776) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:39AM (#23681147) Homepage
        Sweet Jesus, you made your point. Now please stop saying "pr0n".
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:52AM (#23681329)
        Also, think about this. If you look at pr0n, doesn't it make you horny?

        Now, let's talk about child pr0n. Doesn't matter whether it's virtual or not -- if you're a pedophile, it will still make you want to go out and act on that, just as 'normal' pr0n does for the non-sexual-deviant.

        Do you really think that stimulating child predators with pr0n -- even virtual pr0n -- is a good idea?


        This is slashdot. People here don't have girlfriends, which makes it easy to compare with child porn (no, wait, just read on).

        Watching porn makes us horny. So, does that mean we rape women? No, we jack off.

        How about a paedophile? Watching child porn makes him horny. Does that mean he rapes children? No, he jacks off.

        Sure, there are rapists both among normal(tm) people and among paedophiles. Why would they need porn? To jack off? But they can't rape someone at the same time. No matter what, if they jack off, that "wet spot" is not going inside a victim (child or otherwise).

        So, watching porn and jacking off reduces the number of rapes (statistically proven for years when it comes to adult porn). But *producing* child porn increases it. (Legal adult porn is made with willing actresses, and thus not rape). That's why we outlaw child porn.

        CGI offers to remove the "increases it" part.
      • by Eccles (932) on Friday June 06, 2008 @11:51AM (#23682895) Journal
        Also, think about this. If you look at pr0n, doesn't it make you horny?

        Uh, no, I look at pr0n because I'm already horny, and the wife is asleep or left early for work.

        And when I look at pr0n, I will often see or read and by stimulated by things that I would not actually like in real life. Consider how many women admit to rape fantasies, but would be greatly harmed by the real thing. Just as 2girls1cup (which I haven't seen, but I've read descriptions of) hasn't led to an outbreak of cropophilia, and the growth of the internet hasn't led to mass increases in the amount of sex people are having, images aren't forcing behavior. If anything, they may sate urges that otherwise might be directed in harmful ways.

        As another example, the typical use of hotel pr0n is for it to watched, on average, for 12 minutes. The guy on the business trip who satisfies himself that way is the guy who isn't then going down to the bar in the lobby and picking up a woman there for the night. So if anything the existence of those movies (or laptops with internet access) probably reduce immoral behavior among married businessmen.

        So making CG images available may actually reduce the number of pedos who seek out real victims.

        asstr dot org has plenty of pedo stories. Do you think it should be banned for stimulating child predators?
    • by Tom (822) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:47AM (#23681271) Homepage Journal

      I thought the purpose of child-porn laws were to ensure that no children were hurt (a fairly noble goal).
      Pfft.

      The purpose of child-porn laws is to create fear in parents and then tell them your party will take care of their children and they needn't worry - if only the vote for you. In other words: The purpose of child-porn laws is to generate votes.

      I've yet to see the slightest bit of evidence that any of these laws had any meaningful effect on actual child abuse at all. It's probably because the aim of those laws is the dangerous foreign stranger who abducts and abuses your child (a nightmare for all parents) instead of father/mother/uncle who abuses a kid (the by far most common case in real life).
      • by jeffasselin (566598) <cormacolinde@gmail . c om> on Friday June 06, 2008 @11:19AM (#23682481) Journal
        The problem with laws that target crimes mostly committed by mentally unstable people is that those people are mentally unstable, and will not be deterred by respect for the law, fear of justice any more than they would be by standards of morality, or their conscience.

        So yeah, many of those laws are for show, as in they can be used to punish and try to prevent recidivism, they will not prevent most of such crimes in the first place.
  • by Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:14AM (#23680841) Homepage
    As CG graphics improve and more photography is done digitally instead of on film, what's to stop a savvy defense lawyer from convincing a jury to dismiss photographic evidence -- including video from surveillance cameras -- on the grounds that it's computer-generated and therefore fake?
    • by bugg (65930) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:19AM (#23680921) Homepage
      Photos don't testify at trials, people do. Generally if you have photographic evidence you need to have the cameraperson testify, and they will need to testify that they took the picture and establish (sometimes by establishing chain of custody/development procedures) that the picture reflects what they saw and how someone edited or added things.
      • by RobBebop (947356) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:45AM (#23681241) Homepage Journal

        you need to have the cameraperson testify

        I think that's the point that nobody is watching the footage of these Big Brother cameras all the time. A "wired" criminal could have the resources to doctor the surveillance tapes before anybody notices the crime has been committed. At that point, the defense attorney is left with the hard task of demonstrating that it isn't his client in the videos.

        Just like lie detector tests... surveillance videos are not infallible.

        • Watermarking (Score:3, Informative)

          by Aqualung812 (959532) on Friday June 06, 2008 @10:52AM (#23682103)
          I have used digital surveillance cameras at two jobs now. Both systems I used had a hidden watermark embedded into the files.
          If you exported a .jpeg, you would break the evidence chain since it didn't have the software to validate it. It is fine for giving to the newspapers to try to catch the bad guy, but when it comes to putting them in court, you would always need to export the video wrapped in a .exe that included the player. Then the software company could prove that the video was unaltered from the time it was taken.
    • by mdmkolbe (944892) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:27AM (#23681007)

      ... convincing a jury to dismiss photographic evidence -- including video from surveillance camera ...

      IANAL, but I think video from surveillance cameras will be alright because all you have to do is have the person in charge of the surveillance swear the films haven't been altered. This would force the defense to posit that someone is trying to frame the defendant and is lying about the films being genuine. That would usually be considered unreasonable doubt (unless of course you've got some actual evicence and not just the accusation that the video is fake).

    • by MrNemesis (587188) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:31AM (#23681063) Homepage Journal
      M'lud, I present exhibit A - a 1024-node renderfarm accompanied by a small army of animators and artists that we believe was used to fabricate exhibit B ;)

      At the moment (as far as I'm aware - I have a friend who works in forensic IT who has a colleague that specialises in detecting doctored images and video), even the top-end CGI is relatively easy to distinguish from the real thing, especially where humans are involved (even more so for video). Whilst I agree there's a possibility that tech and skills capable of making realistic human animations and the like may only be a few years away, I still think it'll be a long time before such fare becomes indistinguishable from the real thing, and even if it was there'd be an inevitable paper trail (or lack of it) concerning the origin of the pics/vids.
    • I think that video surveillance systems providers will evolve to meet the problem. It is essentially a problem with demonstrating data immutability, like with the data preservation requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley. Digital surveillance hardware and software vendors (the ones who plan on surviving, anyway) will improve their systems to include audit trails, chain of control on evidence, etc., if they haven't already. I'm not saying that they will necessarily be able to fend off the most determined attackers, but they should be able to produce a system that mostly eliminates the chance for digital video fraud, and offers the ability to counter a defense attorney's FUD.
    • by Rydia (556444) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:52AM (#23681325)
      As others have said, people have to authenticate photographs. Video from surveillance cameras would go something like: was in proper working condition, data was retrieved and stored in safe place, inscribed using proper techniques.

      As for what the defense attorney could do, he could of course attempt to attack the authentication or chain of custody, but that isn't any different from photographs for the past 50 years. It's much easier to explain away photos rather than lose capital with the jury by fighting them tooth and nail (and almost assuredly losing).

      The other option, put something about the possibility of fabrication in your close, but that is objectionable. It will be overruled, true, but the judge would almost certainly (in my experience) give the jury a speech about how closings are just argument and they have to rely on what they heard in the evidence to reach their decision.
  • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:17AM (#23680891) Homepage Journal
    They can tell from a few pixels and having seen quite a few shops in their time.
  • NSFW (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Atheose (932144) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:18AM (#23680901)
    It'd be nice to see a "NSFW" (Not Suitable For Work) tag on the article. I clicked the link and I'm at work, and am now worried that large men with guns will appear. Saying "The following images may be disturbing" is too ambiguous.
  • How to tell (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TappedOut (1185315) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:18AM (#23680913)
    The latest Scientific American has an interesting article on the current state of the art of how to tell whether a photo has been doctored. http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=digital-image-forensics [sciam.com]
  • by mariushm (1022195) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:21AM (#23680949)

    Here's a coral cache link for the 1st site:

    Click me [nyud.net]

    The last one won't work at all

  • by jonastullus (530101) * on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:32AM (#23681081) Homepage
    Seeing how well Image Based Rendering works (as for example in this impressive, and already old demo of a 3D morphable face model [youtube.com]), many things are now being calculated from a single image or a pair of images.

    Object geometries, light sources, occlusions, textures can be determined more and more precisely from simple photos, making it easier to add objects which exhibit the correct shadows and highlights for the surrounding scene.

    So my guess would be that confidently identifying fudget images is already near-impossible and will become even more so with more robust image based rendering algorithms
  • by noidentity (188756) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:35AM (#23681107)

    Note: some of the linked (computer-generated) images may be disturbing.

    Oh don't worry, we've seen goatse and tubgirl already.

  • Tricksy (Score:3, Funny)

    by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:35AM (#23681109) Homepage Journal
    some of the linked (computer-generated) images may be disturbing.

    Aha! Your little trick worked. It made me actually read the article before posting.
  • by Mishra100 (841814) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:48AM (#23681291)
    Maybe photo companies could start implement a digital signature like process into their photos.

    The idea is that each pixel would be assigned its own identifier. Kind of like HTML format like #342332. You then take the sum of the identifiers (or something like that) and use the camera's encryption key and sign the document. When you want to verify the pictures authenticity you use the image verification feature on the camera which would match the picture's identifier and match it against the camera key to make sure it still hasn't been altered.

    This is only an IDEA and my explanation on how it MIGHT work is just an idea. I also know it might not be perfect as someone could steal the encryption key. But at least it would deter 95% of people out there altering pictures that aren't that computer savvy.
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday June 06, 2008 @10:05AM (#23681507) Homepage

      The idea is that each pixel would be assigned its own identifier. Kind of like HTML format like #342332. You then take the sum of the identifiers (or something like that) and use the camera's encryption key and sign the document.

      I won't speak to the technical issues with this. They're not my concern.

      As someone who owns several cameras and does a lot of photography -- I kinda worry about anything which will make images tied to the photographer. If I photograph a crime, or evidence or police misbehaving, or a protest march, or what have you ... I'm kinda leery about having my identity (or at least, my cameras identity) being burned into everything I do. I lose the ability to anonymously photograph things.

      Also, I'm not going to pay for the technology in the camera so that at some point I can prove that it's a real photo and not CG -- it would add costs to my camera and no benefit whatsoever.

      Besides, a hell of a lot of digital photography goes through at least some post-processing. It's part of the worklfow, peoples grannies can now use red-eye removing software, or cropping, or what have you -- "altering" an image isn't nearly as nefarious as you seem to think in the overwhelming majority of photos.

      The only cameras I can see this idea being viable for would be surveillance, police, or other things that need to establish their evidentiary pedigree. For the rest of us, proving it's a real photo isn't necessary.

      Cheers
  • by MadMartigan2001 (766552) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:53AM (#23681359)
    If they can generate images of kids that you cannot tell are fake, then they can generate images of YOU that cannot be identified as fake. So, it's just a matter of time before we start putting "sicko pedo bastards" in jail for harming innocent children when in fact, not a single real person appears in the photo. At the same time, real sick and twisted pedophiles, who are smart enough to cover their tracks, will continue to abuse real children. But who cares about that right? As long as we hang a few, innocent or not, it makes us feel better.
    • by Detritus (11846) on Friday June 06, 2008 @11:54AM (#23682933) Homepage
      No children need to be involved for the state to prosecute and destroy the life of someone who is in possession of thought-crime material. From what I've read, much or most of the "child pornography" that is in circulation is decades old, much of it from commercial publications that predate the current hysteria and draconian laws about child pornography. You never have to touch a child, just be in possession of some 30-year-old Danish porn magazine that shows naked teenagers. When do we start burning witches and heretics? How did we end up in a world where it is a major crime to possess books or art that have been deemed dangerous or obscene?
  • by sm62704 (957197) on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:55AM (#23681387) Journal
    Fittingly, their art is an homage to Diego Velázquez [wikipedia.org].

    Hard for a layman to tell a photo of a Velázquez from a photo of its model. Like everything else, today's artists just have better tools. A good painter could have fooled the FBI in 1920, only easier than with a computer-generated image today.

    The cameras weren't as good then, so it would have been harder to tell a photo of a model from a photo of a painting of the model. The cameras were not in color. Nobody expected a photo of a painting to be anything but a photo.

    Lets see any of you lay persons who haven't been trained in art make a photoshop image as good as a Velázquez painting.
  • by Darth Maul (19860) on Friday June 06, 2008 @10:25AM (#23681759) Homepage
    I was in a jury for a case where a guy has child porn that he "made" using legal porn he found online, but photoshopped on the faces of young girls he knew (including a stepdaughter). In Virginia, we found him guilty because he "manufactured child porn", so it was almost as bad as having actual underage girls photographed in those scenes. It was an interesting case because of the legal definitions.

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