No Age Verification Bill Supporters, Liberals are Not Out of Step to the Rest of the World With Their Opposition

Supporters of the age verification bill are said to by mystified as to why the Liberals won’t support their internet crackdown.

The Canadian Conservative party’s variation of the war on the open internet is running into roadblocks from the Liberals. It’s certainly an ironic turn of events where the Liberals are the ones defending the free and open internet given that, throughout the last few years, it was the Liberal party leading the charge to cracking down on the internet. With Canada’s age verification bill, however, it seems that there was a role reversal in the political realm. Sadly, within the political realm, almost everyone hates the internet and the only squabble is the method on how to crack down on it.

With the age verification bill, there’s a whole pile of problems with it. Whether it is demands to implement things like facial recognition scanning, mass internet censorship, or unenforceable privacy provisions, the bill that is sold as a “protect the children” bill will only serve to endanger everyone in the country. When MPs were asked how they envision this bill even working, they gave a collective shrug and said that committee would somehow magically solve all of the problems of this fools errand.

Supporters have been unable to come up with a viable defence of this legislation as well. Some defences of the bill were so bad, some argued that scanning everyone’s faces or forcing everyone to hand over government ID is a way to safeguard your privacy. Yeah, the defences really are that bad.

With no viable defence of the legislation, it seems that the bills author is having to resort to some table pounding measures. They are now arguing that other countries are jumping off the innovation cliff, so Canada should also jump off the cliff as well. From the Globe and Mail:

The author of a private members’ bill intended to prevent children from accessing pornography online is accusing Canada of being out of step with other countries that have already acted on the issue, as the federal government continues to oppose the legislation.

A group of 15 Liberal MPs broke ranks with the government last month and voted alongside the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois to push the bill, known as the Protecting Young Persons From Exposure to Pornography Act, or Bill S-210, toward its final stages in the Commons. But the Heritage Minister’s office told The Globe and Mail that the government will continue to withhold support for the bill, citing privacy concerns.

It is true that other countries have been engaging in this thought experiment. In the US, there have been several attempts to push these types of laws. Invariably, these laws got challenged in court over constitutional grounds. As Techdirt noted last year, at least one effort was ruled to be clearly unconstitutional:

We’ve been talking a lot by the rush of states to push for age verification laws all over the world, despite basically every expert noting that age verification technology is inherently a problem for privacy and security, and the laws mandating it are terrible. So far, it seems that only the Australian government has decided to buck the trend and push back on implementing such laws. But, much of the rest of the world is moving forward with them, while a bunch of censorial prudes cheer these laws on despite the many concerns about them.

The Free Speech Coalition, the trade group representing the adult content industry, has sued to block the age verification laws in the US that specifically target their websites. We reported on how their case in Utah was dismissed on procedural grounds, because that law is a bounty-type law with a private right of action, so there was no one in the government that could be sued. However, the similar law in Texas did not include that setup (even as Texas really popularized that method with its anti-abortion law). The Free Speech Coalition sued over the law to block it from going into effect.

Judge David Alan Ezra (who is technically a federal judge in Hawaii, but is hearing Texas cases because the Texas courts are overwhelmed) has issued a pretty sweeping smackdown of these kinds of laws, noting that they violate the 1st Amendment and that they’re barred by Section 230.

This, of course, hasn’t stopped some supporters of an American version from attempting to wish away the 1st amendment to implement these laws. Still, it is comforting to know that there is precedence to say that, yes, age verification laws are unconstitutional.

In France, a French privacy agency concluded that age verification laws are unworkable and violate privacy rights. From TechDirt:

The French data protection agency, CNIL, has declared that no age verification technology in existence can be deemed as safe and not dangerous to privacy rights.

Now, there are many things that I disagree with CNIL about, especially its views that the censorial “right to be forgotten in the EU” should be applied globally. But one thing we likely agree on is that CNIL does not fuck around when it comes to data protection stuff. CNIL is generally seen as the most aggressive and most thorough in its data protection/data privacy work. Being on the wrong side of CNIL is a dangerous place for any company to be.

So I’d take it seriously when CNIL effectively notes that all age verification is a privacy nightmare, especially for children:

The CNIL has analysed several existing solutions for online age verification, checking whether they have the following properties: sufficiently reliable verification, complete coverage of the population and respect for the protection of individuals’ data and privacy and their security.

The CNIL finds that there is currently no solution that satisfactorily meets these three requirements.

So, with that, it’s actually amusing that MPs in Canada are saying that other countries are implementing such laws, yet other countries are coming to the same conclusions as independent experts: age verification laws are a massive violation of people’s privacy rights, fails to “protect the children”, and is not technologically feasible to implement.

Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, the author of the legislation who also supported censoring Canadian creators through the Online Streaming Act and gutting the independence of the Canadian news sector through the Online News Act, said she is mystified that her latest salvo in cracking down on the internet is being opposed by the Liberals:

The author of the bill, Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, said on Thursday that she finds the government’s stance confusing.

“The Liberal government’s opposition to Bill S-210 is puzzling, considering the bill is supported by all other parties in the House,” she said. “It also contradicts earlier signals from the government. Most objections to S-210 are based on fearmongering and fallacies, and the issues of privacy and data security can be thoroughly addressed in regulations.”

“The Canadian government is going against the tide of countries and jurisdictions that are legislating to protect children from exposure to online pornography, including the European Union, the U.K., France, Germany, Spain,” she added.

Year, right Senator. Publishing facts is “fearmongering”. I mean, who are you going to believe? Us critics who were right about everything in the Bill C-11, Bill C-18, and Bill S-210 debates or the bills supporters who have been wrong about everything up to this point? It’s a tough question for your average technologically inept person. The simple truth of Bill S-210 is that it’s an unconstitutional and unworkable mess that is destined to be struck down in the courts. No doubt she’ll find herself shaking her fist when the bill goes down in flames, complaining how she would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren’t for us meddling kids.

The Globe and Mail tried to carry water for the Senator as it seemed to look desperately for examples elsewhere in the world where age verification laws are implemented. It would seem that the author had a difficult time (though at least the author was honest about the results which is a nice change):

This week, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, said he is planning to introduce measures to shield children from pornography. He told the El Pais newspaper that sexually explicit material online is affecting the development of teenagers.

German regulators told The Globe and Mail last week that they are preparing to ask their country’s internet providers to block Pornhub and other websites operated by Aylo, an online pornography company owned by a Canadian private equity firm, over its failure to comply with Germany’s laws on age verification. Aylo has challenged the move in court.

So, one country that is thinking of tabling this terrible kind of legislation and another country where a website is going to challenge its blocking in court. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the international community even when someone else tries looking for examples to bolster the effort.

The article goes on to push a bunch of fearmongering about how teenagers are overwhelmingly accessing online porn without even trying (riiiiight, “accidentally”) and that this is somehow an out of control problem that needs to be addressed. Then, the author gets a quote from Michael Geist who points out the obvious that this bill violates privacy and freedom of expression. Geist also pointed out how this bill fails to even offer a scoping of what websites are even covered and, instead, simply applying it to every website on the internet. These are all problems we’ve also found with the bill as well.

This latest attempt to defend the legislation shows how indefensible this bill is in the first place. We’ve already been reduced down to supporters (falsely) claiming that “everyone else is doing it”. That is ultimately their strongest defence – and it’s a terribly weak one at best. The criticisms all stand and there is just no real viable response to any of them. The only salvation for the bills supporters is using politics to push a dangerous law through. With no evidence to support the effort, that’s about all the MPs pushing these laws have left.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

2 thoughts on “No Age Verification Bill Supporters, Liberals are Not Out of Step to the Rest of the World With Their Opposition”

  1. In Canada, 16 and 17 year olds can have sex with pretty much anyone they want, 14 and 15 year olds can have sex with anyone as long as the age difference is less than 5 years, and 12 and 13 year olds can have sex with anyone as long as the age difference is less than 2 years. And yet none of these age groups can legally watch porn because it might harm them. Does this make sense to you?

    1. In that light, it really doesn’t make any sense at all.

      What I find funny in all of this is the fact that adult content has been around far longer than the internet. Whether it was dirty magazines, late night television, kids drawing in their text books, etc. We’ve had this kind of stuff all this time, yet, we survived as a society. Yet, these anti-icky picture crusaders honestly believe we are on the brink of civil collapse because these things can be found on the internet. Probably not a surprise that there is zero logic being used in pushing these laws in the first place.

      I mean, the real thing that’s going to protect children is education. Educate people on how to safely use the internet. Educate people on how to think critically about these things. Tell kids that many of those adult oriented pictures are airbrushed and otherwise photoshopped to look as perfect as possible. Tell kids that real life is far different than scenarios depicted in those online video’s. You want to protect children in all of this? That is how you do it. Not mass government censorship and privacy destroying surveillance tech.

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