25.06.2022, Berlin: Franziska Giffey (SPD), Regierende Bürgermeisterin von Berlin, spricht bei einem Interview über das Fake-Telefonat mit dem vorgeblichen Vitali Klitschko. Der für politisch motivierte Straftaten zuständige Staatsschutz der Kriminalpolizei ermittelt über den Fall. Foto: Christophe Gateau/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

After the phone call between the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Franziska Giffey, and a fake Vitali Klitschko, there is growing concern in the traffic light coalition about completely new forms of espionage and hybrid warfare.

This is a worrying example of the danger of “deep fakes” in politics, said the deputy FDP parliamentary group leader Konstantin Kuhle the daily mirror. Deep fake technology is a special form of artificial intelligence in which systems can learn and imitate, for example, their facial expressions and speech through extensive observation of people.

“If voters can no longer tell whether a video snippet shows a real quote from a politician or whether it is a fake, the floodgates are wide open to abuse,” said Kuhle. “Authoritarian regimes like China and Russia can use deep fakes to impair decision-making processes in democracies.” The Foreign Office and the intelligence services should therefore also be involved.

In the Giffey case, however, it must also be clarified how the talks were initiated, emphasized Kuhle. He also has the following questions: “Are there any abnormalities in the preparation of the appointment? Who is behind the forgery? And what is the interest of the people behind it in the war in Ukraine?”

Since there were apparently similar incidents with the mayors of Vienna and Madrid in addition to the conversation with Franziska Giffey, the relevant information must now be compared with the European partners, the FDP interior expert demanded.

In fraudulent calls, an unknown person posed as Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv. Digitally manipulated video switching also took place with the mayors of Madrid and Vienna. In the case of the switch with Giffey, state security is now investigating. The real Klitschko told the “Bild” that the caller said absurd things. This Giffey demanded that men who had fled to Berlin be sent back to Kyiv for military service.

The real Klitschko offered Giffey a talk soon. “I hope we can talk on the phone through my official channels soon.” He added, “I won’t need translators then either.”

“The incident shows the great importance of trustworthy communication channels and security precautions,” said the digital policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, Jens Zimmermann, the Tagesspiegel. “It can be assumed that warning signals would have been discernible as soon as the conversation was initiated.” The technical possibilities of deep fakes as an instrument of disinformation campaigns are a serious danger.

In the present case, an attempt was apparently made to elicit explosive statements from the real mayor. In this respect, it is a particularly difficult case. A deep fake was implemented in a live video conference. “So it cannot be ruled out that this was done with the aim of espionage or compromising,” said Zimmermann.

If it is an action related to the war against Ukraine, tightening of penalties should not be an effective means, “since the perpetrators are then suspected to be abroad and could possibly come from the secret service environment.”