The New York Times has posted an interviewwith Dartmouth’s Hany Farid, the creator of “digital forensics.” Here’s how Dr. Farid describes the field:
It’s a new field. It didn’t exist five years ago. We look at digital media—images, audio and video—and we try to ascertain whether or not they’ve been manipulated. We use mathematical and computational techniques to detect alterations in them.
In society today, we’re now seeing doctored images regularly. If tabloids can’t obtain a photo of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie walking together on a beach, they’ll make up a composite from two pictures. Star actually did that. And it’s happening in the courts, politics and scientific journals, too. As a result, we now live in an age when the once-held belief that photographs were the definitive record of events is gone. Actually, photographic forgeries aren’t new. People have doctored images since the beginning of photography. But the techniques needed to do that during the Civil War, when Mathew Brady made composites, were extremely difficult and time consuming. In today’s world, anyone with a digital camera, a PC, Photoshop and an hour’s worth of time can make fairly compelling digital forgeries.
Dr. Farid makes some other interesting claims as well. Since 1990, the percentage of fraud cases involving photos has risen from 3 percent to 44.1 percent. While the majority of the interview focuses on digital manipulation in scientific research, clearly photographic forgery is becoming a significant problem in all areas of society.