This picture is worth about 476 words
I had a conversation recently with Andrew, my Shanghai-based photographer buddy, about this article on Salon. The article is about how pictures are losing credibility in "the age of Photoshop"--in other words, how one shouldn't necessarily believe one's own eyes because these days, photographs are so easily doctored. The author centers his piece on a picture that has come out of Iraq:
The picture shows a white man dressed in military uniform standing with two dark-skinned boys in what appears to be a desert setting. Behind them is a ramshackle structure, perhaps a cabin or a makeshift bunker. The man and the boys are under this structure's lean-to roof, posing, happily, for the camera. The man grins, the boys smile shyly, and all flash a thumbs-up sign. Despite their apparent mirth, however, something is amiss with the scene. One of the boys is holding up a piece of cardboard on which, in black marker, is scrawled a chilling message: "Lcpl Boudreaux killed my dad. then he knocked up my sister!"
Whether that's the real message on the cardboard sign is unclear, however--there is a near-identical picture floating around the 'net that has this message scrawled on the sign:
"Lcpl Boudreaux saved my dad. then he rescued my sister!"
You can see the two pictures side-by-side here.
The idea that a picture printed by a news organization is not immediately credible is a scary notion. It is in the best interest of such media companies to ensure credibility when publishing photos, which is why the LA Times fired staff photographer Brian Walski last year for merging two photos to improve the composition of a shot that ran in the Times.
The real issue occurs when news orgs run stories on faked photographs that manage to become accepted as fact by the public. That link above is to an account of the NY Times running a story about a photo of John Kerry at a Vietnam war protest with Jane Fonda, even though the photo has been debunked as fake by the urban legend resource website, Snopes.com.
So Andrew ended up mentioning the Canon DVK-E2, which is a digital verification kit for photographs. It consists of a secure memory card and a USB-connected device to read from and write to the card. When a picture is taken using a Canon camera that supports the DVK, the secure memory card tags the picture with a code that is unique to that picture. The authenticity of that picture can then be determined by the USB reader, which determines the appropriate code and compares it with the unique code that is attached to the image. It's not a perfect solution--there won't ever be one--but it's a step in a good direction.