A California judge has tentatively ordered Elon Musk to be interviewed under oath about whether he made certain statements regarding the capabilities of Tesla’s Autopilot features after the company questioned the authenticity of the remarks, claiming Musk is a “target for deep fakes”.
The ruling came in a lawsuit against Tesla, filed by the family of Walter Huang who was killed in a car crash in 2018.
Huang’s family argues Tesla’s partially automated driving software failed. The carmaker contends Huang was playing a video game on his phone before the crash and disregarded vehicle warnings.
The attorneys for Huang’s family sought to depose Musk regarding recorded statements from 2016 in which he allegedly said: “A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person. Right now.”
Tesla, however, opposed the request in court filings, arguing that Musk, the Tesla CEO, cannot recall details about the statement and questioning the authenticity of the recording.
“[Musk], like many public figures, is the subject of many ‘deepfake’ videos and audio recordings that purport to show him saying and doing things he never actually said or did,” Tesla said.
Judge Evette Pennypacker tentatively ordered a limited, three-hour deposition where Musk could be asked whether he actually made the statements on the recordings, and called Tesla’s arguments “deeply troubling”.
“Their position is that because Mr Musk is famous and might be more of a target for deep fakes, his public statements are immune,” Pennypacker wrote, adding that such arguments would allow Musk and other famous people “to avoid taking ownership of what they did actually say and do”.
In June 2016 video of Musk speaking at a conference was uploaded to YouTube, and shows the Tesla CEO making the statement that the attorneys for Huang’s family refer to.
California judges often issue tentative rulings which are then finalised after a hearing with few major changes.
Tesla and an attorney for Huang’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit is scheduled to go into trial on 31 July, adding to growing legal and regulatory scrutiny over Tesla’s Autopilot system.
A California state court jury on Friday found Autopilot did not fail in what appeared to be the first trial related to a crash involving the software.
Reuters contributed to this report
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