Justice Minister Rob Nicholson today tabled the Child Protection Act (Online Sexual Exploitation). As widely reported, Bill C-58 creates a mandatory disclosure requirement on Internet providers where they become aware of child pornography websites or have reason to believe a subscriber is using their service to violate child pornography laws. Where an Internet provider submits a report on a user, they must preserve the relevant computer data for 21 days and they are prohibited from disclosing the disclosure to the customer. Failure to report may result in fines or imprisonment and providers are granted immunity from liability for reporting the activity. The definition of Internet provider is broad, extending beyond just ISPs to include those providing Internet access, hosting, or email services. In other words, services like Google, Hotmail, and Facebook are all covered.
The bill shares similarities with provincial laws (ie. Ontario) and those that report under the provincial law are exempt from the federal version. While few will criticize a bill targeting child pornography – everyone agrees that child pornography is abhorrent and we need to ensure that we have laws to deal with the problem – it is hard to see what this bill actually accomplishes. Canada already has:
- an online child pornography tip service that receives thousands of tips
- ISPs that block access to child pornography images
- some of the toughest child pornography laws in the world
- numerous examples of child pornography arrests
- law enforcement focused on child pornography virtually to the exclusion of all other online issues
Further, while there are reports that Canada is a source of child pornography websites, a major European based study concluded that focusing on the World Wide Web and blocking content makes little sense in trying to combat child pornography (the same report found that image blocking initiatives like the Canadian Project Cleanfeed are ineffective). Instead, the real problems lies in dissemination of child pornography in newsgroups, private groups, and other private spaces that fall largely outside the potential for tips envisioned by Bill C-58 or Canada's Project Cleanfeed.