Canadian Senator Introduces S-203 to Crack Down on Online Porn

More censorship proposals are coming out of Canada. A senator introduced a bill (S-203) demanding government regulated age verification for online porn.

When we said that Canadian governments have a habit of running with every bad legislative idea under the sun when it comes to the Internet, we weren’t joking. Already, digital rights advocates have given up on the Trudeau government and declared it anti-Internet. In response, the government basically agreed with that assessment and doubled down on their anti-Internet push via the budget. Yesterday, the government then gave a giant middle finger to the Internet by floating ideas on how to regulate online speech and apps – going full war on Internet mode in the process.

Now, the Liberals are making another move in their war on the Internet. A bill was introduced in the Senate that demands websites contain government mandated age verification for online pornography. Those that don’t comply would be open to criminal liability. It was a development so alarming, it even caught the attention of American digital rights advocates. From the EFF:

First, S-203 would make any person or company criminally liable for any time an underage user engages with sexual content through its service. The law applies even if the person or company believed the user to be an adult, unless the person or company “implemented a prescribed age-verification method.”

Second, the bill seemingly imposes this burden on a broad swath of the internet stack. S-203 would criminalize the acts of independent performers, artists, blogs, social media, message boards, email providers, and any other intermediary or service in the stack that is in some way “for commercial purposes” and “makes available sexually explicit material on the Internet to a young person.” The only meaningful defense against the financial penalties that a person or company could assert would be to verify the legal adult age of every user and then store that data.

The sheer amount of technical infrastructure it would take for such a vast portion of the internet to “implement a prescribed age-verification method” would be costly and overwhelmingly complicated. It would also introduce many security concerns that weren’t previously there. Even if every platform had server side storage with robust security posture, processing high level personally identifiable information (PII) on the client side would be a treasure trove for anyone with a bit of app exploitation skills. And then if this did create a market space for third-party proprietary solutions to take care of a secure age verification system, the financial burden would only advantage the largest players online. Not only that, it’s ahistorical to assume that younger teenagers wouldn’t figure out ways to hack past whatever age verification system is propped up.

Then there’s the privacy angle. It’s ludicrous to expect all adult users to provide private personal information every time they log onto an app that might contain sexual content. The implementation of verification schemes in contexts like this may vary on how far privacy intrusions go, but it generally plays out as a cat and mouse game that brings surveillance and security threats instead of responding to initial concerns. The more that a verification system fails, the more privacy-invasive measures are taken to avoid criminal liability.

Ultimately, Canadian Senate Bill S-203 is another in a long line of morally patronizing legislation that doesn’t understand how the internet works. Even if there were a way to keep minors away from sexual content, there is no way without vast collateral damage. Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne, who introduced the bill, stated “it makes no sense that the commercial porn platforms don’t verify age. I think it’s time to legislate.” We gently recommend that next time her first thought be to consult with experts.

Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne is a Liberal senator (which have rebranded themselves as Independent Senators Group after a farcical thought exercise in the Liberal party’s pretend effort to eliminate partisanship in the Senate).

It’s not really a surprise that this caught the attention of US digital rights advocates. After all, numerous states have been introducing legislation to crack down on online pornography – many of which is constitutionally questionable in the first place. The UK has proposed similar laws, sparking a fresh volley of remarks of how the government really is the nanny state.

Obviously, the criticism of this is going directly at the amount of damage it would cause not only for free speech, but privacy and the Internet free market. This over top of the fact that such a censorship push always leads to other kinds of content being actively censored. It’s the famous scenario of when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is a members bill and not a government bill. Historically, most bills introduced by individual lawmakers typically die on the order paper. So, it’s unlikely to pass in the first place. Still, this does offer further proof that the Canadian government is leading a charge in a war on the Internet. In short, Miville-Dechêne gave the Liberals added liability for, really, no reason at all. We hope that there isn’t a fluke that this somehow passes on the off chance it actually has a shot in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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