There’s no question that Bill S-210, or Canada’s Age Verification bill is an unmitigated disaster. Open Media is offering an explanation why.
Last year, we published an analysis of Bill S-210 – Canada’s age verification law. It’s a badly written bill that would unleash an incredible amount of harm online, all in the name of “save the children”.
Among other things, the legislation envisions Canadian websites to implement non-existent “age verification” technology or risk facing heavy fines and/or closure. It would also subject Canadian users to massively intrusive surveillance requirements such as facial recognition, carding, or other forms of heavy surveillance. This while pretending to protect people’s privacy with obviously fake “destruction” provisions that are simply unenforceable. Additionally, it would grant the government massive new censorship powers to order ISPs to block any website they deem as in violation of these laws, erecting a “Great Firewall of Canada” in the process.
MPs pushing this bill have been questioned about how they envision this bill working. The collective response from MPs is that they don’t have a clue and that they would rather let committee take up the fools errand of trying to make any of this workable (they will obviously fail since no technology exists today that carries out the objectives of the bill).
To make matters even worse, the mainstream media has been not helping matters. They’ve spent the last several months making up bullshit excuses for why the legislation is needed or completely fabricating benefits of the legislation in the first place. Examples include that the legislation is needed because basic parenting doesn’t work (WTF?), that the legislation only applied to dedicated adult websites (it applies to every website as there is no threshold to be found in the bill), that the legislation will protect against child luring (the bill would do no such thing), or that the Liberal party is out of step with the rest of the world for questioning the bill (they are actually part of increased criticism towards such laws on that one for a change).
So, while the large media companies have spent their time lying about what age verification does and doesn’t do, Open Media has decided to do their part to try and clear the air about what the age verification bill does and why it is so dangerous. Their FAQ can be found on their website and it is generally quite informative for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of the law if they want a third party to confirm pretty much what we’ve been saying all along. Here’s parts of their FAQ:
2. Isn’t stopping kids from seeing age-inappropriate sexual material a good thing?
Of course! Reasonable, proportionate efforts to reduce the exposure of kids to this material is something we can all support.
But overly broad restrictions can cause a lot of harm for limited benefit. In the offline world, we take reasonable and proportionate measures to minimize the exposure of children to sexually explicit material and have for many decades now.
But we don’t lock down or surveil the whole adult world for this purpose – and that’s what Bill S-210’s wilder provisions currently do.
3. So what are the problems with Bill S-210’s approach?
There’s three major problems with S-210:
a. Bill S-210 would padlock off access to the majority of the Internet, for children AND many adults. Section 5 of S-210 targets any commercial organization that “facilitates” access to explicit adult material. The problem? Most of the internet earns commercial revenue for someone, and much of the Internet allows user uploads that sometimes contain adult material. That means age-gating FAR more than just adult websites whose primary business is selling adult content. It wraps in general purpose websites like Reddit or blog sites, search engines like Google, and maybe even your internet service provider itself!
Does that sound like a drafting error? Section 9(5)(a) makes clear that impacting non-adult websites isn’t a bug; it’s the intention. Canadian courts are told that if a website hasn’t complied with S-210 and blocking it will prevent access to non-adult material, that’s entirely permissible and foreseen under S-210.
Locking most of the Internet this way is not reasonable or proportionate. It will deny young people access to many of the basic discussions, socializing and learning spaces of our times. And it will deny adults who are unable and unwilling to get through S-210’s internet lock access to those spaces too, denying them their fundamental rights.
But why wouldn’t an adult want to or be able to comply? Read on.
b. Bill S-210 would compromise the intimate online lives of Canadian adults, making us vulnerable to multiple serious harms. The problem is that S-210’s permits companies to adopt cheap, fundamentally unsafe internet lock technologies, putting Canadians at risk of blackmail, being outed as LGBTQ+, career loss, and more.
Information about our intimate interests and identity is amongst the most sensitive data about us that exists. Bill S-210 nods towards that high sensitivity in Section 11(2), where it asks that companies use methods that respect privacy and destroy our information after verification.
The problem? Bill S-210 just asks nicely — there’s no penalties for companies that don’t destroy this information, intentionally or by accident. That’s a recipe for disaster. Asking thousands of adult websites and millions of general-purpose Internet services to store our face or official ID and simply hoping they won’t misplace or misuse it isn’t just risky — it is setting up a system guaranteed to fail.
Breaching this privacy is about more than just personal embarrassment; it will cause multiple real harms. Bad actors who hack into this data will use it to extort and blackmail people; LGBTQ2IA+ Canadians who may not have a safe environment around them will be outed; and many may suffer serious career or social consequences. Pierre Trudeau once said the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, and Canada has lived by that principle since. Unless the worst privacy-compromising age verification methods of S-210 are plainly ruled out, Canada will start breaking that principle, creating thousands of government-mandated leaky adult activity databases across the country and in foreign hands.
c. Bill S-210 enforces compliance by blocking sites and services that refuse to put on the Internet lock. That’s a crude, sledgehammer approach that goes wrong in several ways. Most obviously, some services will be unwilling to comply and will be blocked or voluntarily block Canadian users. But because website blocking is a blunt tool, many other services that share domains or IP addresses with that service may also be affected.
And here’s something that’s indirect, but huge. Services that want to stay in Canada but not lock themselves will need to ensure there’s no risk of explicit adult material appearing through them — remember, there’s no threshold in S-210 for how much material is being shared or whether the platform knew or intended it was there.
That means automated adult content detection and automatic removal will be the norm on these services. And that will produce a censored Internet well beyond S-210’s written intent. While Section 6(2) creates an exception for explicit material with artistic or educational merit, bots don’t recognize art, or an intent to educate and inform.
For this reason, Bill S-210 could erase basic educational material from the open Internet in Canada, seriously compromising the access to information rights of many Canadians, with particular impact on LGBTQ+ users and creators.
So, there’s lots of good stuff to be found there. If you’ve been reading Freezenet up to this point, nothing about the FAQ is really all that new. Still, though, for those who are wanting a third party to confirm what I’ve been saying all along, this should be more than sufficient for that confirmation. In fact, a part of me wonders if what was published was inspired by some of my work, but that’s just speculative.
OpenMedia also has a petition for Canadian’s to voice their opposition towards this legislation. I’ve already sent my MP one and I certainly encourage others to do so. It’s a nasty bill that should get rejected outright. It’s poorly drafted and mandates the use of mythical technology to run. It will cause enormous harm that puts everyone at greater risk despite it’s stated objectives saying otherwise.