Word is spreading that photos allegedly showing weapons seized aboard the Gaza aid convoy ship Mavi Marmari have been faked by Israel, taken years ago. This particular conspiracy theory doesn’t have legs. The allegation centres on this set of photos posted on Flickr by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and especially this image of bullet-proof vests (below) and a shot showing dozens of knives and a screwdriver.

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"A stack of bulletproof vests with the Turkish flag and red crescents has ‘EXIF data’ saying the vests were photographed in 2006," says Palestine Note in a typical report. "A photograph of an ax [sic] and box cutters appears to have been taken in 2003. The theme continues with pepper spray, another purported weapon, being photographed in 2003, an electric saw photographed originally in 2006 and a shot of binoculars and night vision equipment with a slingshot was also taken in 2006." Digital cameras use EXIF data to embed information into image files -- the date and time the photo was taken, the camera used, technical settings like exposure and shutter speed and more. If the image is edited in Photoshop or another image editor, further data can be added. Yes, the photo of the bullet-proof vests is indeed timestamped '7 February 2006 at 4.49am', something you can confirm for yourself. But this doesn’t mean the photo was actually taken at that time. That’s just the camera’s clock setting, and they’re notoriously unreliable. Digital cameras, like most digital devices, have an internal battery that keeps the clock running when the camera is turned off or when the main battery goes flat. Alas, they only last a few years. Once they’re dead, each time you swap your camera batteries the clock resets -- typically to January 1 in the year of the camera’s manufacture. This photo is tagged as taken by a Nikon D2Xs -- which can’t have taken any photo on February 7 2006 because Nikon didn’t even announce the camera until June 1, 2006. Similarly, the photo of knives supposedly taken in 2003 is dated January 1, 2003 and timestamped 14:34:55. That’d be the release year of the Pentax Optio 550 camera with which it was taken, says the Anarchogeek blog, not just after lunchtime but 14-odd hours after the photographer loaded fresh batteries. “A huge percentage of cameras have incorrect or bad internal batteries and therefore have incorrect date/time stamping. Despite all the New Year’s photos, January First simply is a data outlier in terms of digital photos,” it writes. If Israeli intelligence agencies can make convincing Australian passports, they can probably do a better job of faking photos.