Donnelly proposes legislation targeting ‘deepfake’ images


Patrick Carey probably thought he could get away with posting false pornographic images of women he knew online, since there are no laws specifically addressing such “deepfake” images.

As it turns out, the 22-year-old Seaford man — who was sentenced for the crime this past week — almost did get away with it. At least according to Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly.

“Creating a fake image, even if it is sexually explicit, is not a criminal offense in New York state,” Donnelly said. “It’s a loophole that allows child pornographers to use new technology to circumvent the existing laws and evade prosecutions.”

Between January and September 2021, nearly a dozen women contacted Nassau County police after discovering images of themselves on a pornographic website. These were not real images, however, but rather ones prosecutors say had been edited by Carey to appear as such.

Carey allegedly pulled images of up to 50 women from their social media accounts and made these “deepfakes.” These women had attended General Douglas MacArthur High School in Levittown alongside Carey.

In addition to the images, Carey also allegedly included personal information on the women, including full names, addresses and telephone numbers.

“The depravity on display by this defendant truly makes my skin crawl,” Donnelly said shortly after his April 18 sentencing. “He acted with hate, and he targeted these girls. He tried to make them fear for their safety and their future. But he underestimated their bravery and their resilience.”

Using three different usernames, Carey allegedly posted more than 1,200 sexually explicit “deepfakes” between August 2019 and September 2021.

“These are images of these young women — just them being girls,” Melissa Scannell, assistant district attorney, told the Herald in December 2021. “It was images of them at cheerleading. It was them smiling at the beach. They were just living their lives.”

Carey was indicted in November that year, but didn’t plead guilty to four charges until this past December. He was sentenced April 18 to six months in prison and 10 years of probation. He also must register as a sex offender.

What got Carey that sentence, Donnelly said, was not creating sexually explicit “deepfake” images of women without their consent. Instead, it was that one of the images he posted included a sexually explicit image of an underage girl. 

But Donnelly wants to prevent another Patrick Carey from committing these kinds of crimes. With that, she has asked lawmakers in Albany to introduce the Digital Manipulation Protection Act. This state law is intended to make illegal the creation of deepfake images of real people in this manner, no matter how old the victims are. 

If passed, there could be up to five new criminal charges associated with the kind of things Carey was accused of doing.

“New York state currently lacks the adequate criminal statutes to protect victims of ‘deepfake’ pornography, both adults and children,” Donnelly said. “That is why I am proposing the legislature take up the Digital Manipulation Protection Act, that would close the loopholes in the law that allow sexual predators and child pornographers to create sexually explicit digitally manipulated images and evade prosecution.

“We cannot protect New Yorkers without making these changes.”

Donnelly has been in contact with other district attorneys’ offices to get the ball rolling on this proposed law, and hopes to see it passed within a year. But whether that does happen will all depend on how legislators ultimately want to move forward.