2017 Freedom of Expression Awards by Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship https://flic.kr/p/Uvmaie (CC BY-SA 2.0)

2017 Freedom of Expression Awards by Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship https://flic.kr/p/Uvmaie (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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The Most Dangerous Canadian Internet Bill You’ve Never Heard Of Is a Step Closer to Becoming Law

After years of battles over Bills C-11 and C-18, few Canadians will have the appetite for yet another troubling Internet bill. But given a bill that envisions government-backed censorship, mandates age verification to use search engines or social media sites, and creates a framework for court-ordered website blocking, there is a need to pay attention. Bill S-210, or the Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act, was passed by the Senate in April after Senators were reluctant to reject a bill framed as protecting children from online harm. The same scenario appears to be playing out in the House of Commons, where yesterday a majority of the House voted for the bill at second reading, sending it to the Public Safety committee for review. The bill, which is the brainchild of Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, is not a government bill. In fact, government ministers voted against it. Instead, the bill is backed by the Conservatives, Bloc and NDP with a smattering of votes from backbench Liberal MPs. Canadians can be forgiven for being confused that after months of championing Internet freedoms, raising fears of censorship, and expressing concern about CRTC overregulation of the Internet, Conservative MPs were quick to call out those who opposed the bill (the House sponsor is Conservative MP Karen Vecchio). 

I appeared before the Senate committee that studied the bill in February 2022, where I argued that “by bringing together website blocking, face recognition technologies, and stunning overbreadth that would capture numerous mainstream services, the bill isn’t just a slippery slope, it is an avalanche.” As I did then, I should preface criticism of the bill by making it clear that underage access to inappropriate content is indeed a legitimate concern. I think the best way to deal with the issue includes education, digital skills, and parental oversight of Internet use including the use of personal filters or blocking tools if desired. Moreover, if there are Canadian-based sites that are violating the law in terms of the content they host, they should absolutely face investigation and potential charges.

However, Bill S-210 goes well beyond personal choices to limit underage access to sexually explicit material on Canadian sites. Instead, it envisions government-enforced global website liability for failure to block underage access, backed by website blocking and mandated age verification systems that are likely to include face recognition technologies. The government establishes this regulatory framework and is likely to task the CRTC with providing the necessary administration. While there are surely good intentions with the bill, the risks and potential harms it poses are significant.

The basic framework of Bill S-210 is that it creates an offence for any organization making available sexually explicit material to anyone under the age of 18 for commercial purposes. The penalty for doing so is $250,000 for the first offence and up to $500,000 for any subsequent offences. Organizations (broadly defined under the Criminal Code) can rely on three potential defences:

  1. The organization instituted a “prescribed age-verification method” to limit access. It would be up to the government to determine what methods qualify with due regard for reliability and privacy. There is a major global business of vendors that sell these technologies and who are vocal proponents of this kind of legislation.
  2. The organization can make the case that there is “legitimate purpose related to science, medicine, education or the arts.”
  3. The organization took steps required to limit access after having received a notification from the enforcement agency (likely the CRTC).

The enforcement of the bill is left to the designated regulatory agency, which can issue notifications of violations to websites and services. Those notices can include the steps the agency wants followed to bring the site into compliance. This literally means the government via its regulatory agency will dictate to sites how they must interact with users to ensure no underage access. If the site fails to act as instructed within 20 days, the regulator can apply for a court order mandating that Canadian ISPs block the site from their subscribers. The regulator would be required to identify which ISPs are subject to the blocking order.

The website blocking provisions are focused on limiting user access and can therefore be applied to websites anywhere in the world with Canadian ISPs required to ensure that the sites are rendered inaccessible. And what about the risk of overblocking? The bill not only envisions the possibility of blocking lawful content or limiting access to those over 18, it expressly permits it. Section 9(5) states that if the court determines that an order is needed, it may have the effect of preventing access to “material other than sexually explicit material made available by the organization” or limiting access to anyone, not just young people. This raises the prospect of full censorship of lawful content under court order based on notices from a government agency. 

If that isn’t bad enough, there are two additional serious concerns. First, the bill is not limited to pornography sites. Rather, it applies to any site or service that makes sexually explicit materials available. This would presumably include search engines, social media sites such as Twitter, or chat forums such as Reddit, where access to explicit material is not hard to find. If the bill was limited solely to sites whose primary purpose is the commercial distribution of sexually explicit material, it might be more defensible. As it stands now, the overbroad approach leaves this bill vulnerable to constitutional challenge.

Second, consider the way sites are supposed to comply with the law, by establishing age verification systems. This effectively means that sites will require their users to register with commercial age verification systems in order to run a search or access some tweets. And the age verification systems raise real privacy concerns, including mandated face recognition as part of the verification process.

Senate private members bills rarely become law, but this bill is suddenly on the radar screen in a big way. The bill should not have come this far and should not be supported. Creating safeguards for underage access to inappropriate content is a laudable goal, but not at the cost of government-backed censorship, mandated face recognition, and age-approval requirements to use some of the most popular sites and services in the world.

109 Comments

  1. Thanks for continuing to push back against all the nonsense, Michael.

  2. For all of the good that it sadly doesn’t seem to do.

    This government, the one that campaigned on transparency only runs sham/theatre public consultations that make it look like it wants to hear what Canadians have to say, but in reality, it doesn’t care and has it’s mind made up about what legislation will be before any Canadian has any say. They do it at their own peril even. C-18 is a perfect example of this.

    • Curtis Magyar says:

      Did you even read the article? This not a bill introduced by the Liberals or even supported by them. It is the conservatives who are supporting this censorship.

      • Of course I did. The problem is that this silly blogging platform seems to lose reply context from time to time. My comments were in reply to the previous comments by Gogo, not the content of the article. This platform failed to stagger my comments under that comment despite my clicking the Reply under Gogo’s comment.

        • DITTO – my reply was in response to Brian’s but it is way down below or above – I am not sure where this reply will go now…Michael fix the site Please?

      • Actually, the bill is supported by some Liberals, backbenchers. It is also supported by the NDP and Bloc.

      • Travis Hotrum says:

        Nope. It’s a private member’s bill introduced by Sen. Julie Miville-Dechene. She was appointed by Trudeau.

    • I am 60 years old. The liberals have been doing this exact thing since I was old enough to understand politics and probably before.

      When most of the voters are politically stupid and at last half vote for this or that party because:

      “my father and his father before him voted this party goddammit and if it was good enough for them it’s good enough for me. I don’t have time to find out what every party is campaigning on or what their previous history is.”

      It is my personal belief that in order to become leader of this country you should have to pass an IQ test with at least 140. You should not be associated with or born into a wealthy family and your history should be an open book so we can disqualify based on moral history.

      Also, voters should not be allowed to vote unless they pass an IQ test with at least 110 IQ and also pass a test on what the political environment is currently.

      I KNOW this is not fair to everyone, but it IS smarter and safer than what we have today.

      What we have today, in my not so humble, non-doctoral opinion, is a psychopathic narcissist who smiles when he hears about what people thin about him due to his parties decisions which have caused GREAT hardship for everyone.

      His heart and soul is that of a dictator and why wouldn’t it be, growing up and the feet of dictators and most likely being fathered by one of them.

      I mean has anyone else looked up his photo along side the young Fidel Castro – I mean, spitting image does that comparison justice!

      • Sylvain Pariseau PPC says:

        ..Also, voters should not be allowed to vote unless they pass an IQ test with at least 110 IQ and also pass a test on what the political environment is currently.

        fine, but only voters get taxed.

        I’m an official candidate for the PPC and I enjoyed your insight.

        Merry Christmas.

      • Wow, that puts a lot of faith in IQ tests. They are very unreliable and likely even designed to eliminate races, religions, etc. etc. from appearing to have sufficient intelligence.

  3. The woman in charge of introducing this bill is literally named Karen.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

    I’d love to know if we can get all private records of all of her internet search history to give her a taste of what this bill can leverage.

    The entire argument seems to be “Won’t SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHIIILDREN!!”

    A nation full of pathetic Helen Lovejoys.

    • Yes, and unfortunately that cry to save the children is automatically turned around as being that you are a child molester if you oppose anything that is supposed to save them.

      So if you can attach a cry to save the children to something, anything, you are likely to get your way out of fear of being accused of being a pedophile if you oppose it.

      • Curtis Magyar says:

        That’s exactly what the previous CPC government (which poilievre was in) did.

        Remember when they tried to force ISPs to spy on us and keep the records. Then when we complained they said we’re either with them or were with the child Pornographers. And it was Vic Toews who said it. Same guy who left his wife and family to be with the babysitter. You couldn’t even make this stuff up. Now he’s a judge, appointed by Harper.

        • But, but, the Conservatives…

          The Liberals are no better. Look into the history of the current Minister of National Defence Bill Blair, in particular with the G20 in Toronto and “Project Safe City” in Toronto. In the case of the latter, the TPS were mining the databases of the Canadian Firearms Center looking for residents of Toronto whose PAL has expired. Within days of the database indicating it has expired the Guns and Gangs Unit was showing up at the persons house to confiscate the firearms. The problem? The CFC was notorious for being slow at processing the renewals, sometimes taking over 6 months to do so. Most people I know with a PAL at the time would submit via registered mail 6 months before it expired.

  4. This is a solved problem with the CIRA DNS servers. It requires parents to make a choice and configure devices, but that’s it.

    No facial recognition, no activity logging, no credit cards.

    https://www.cira.ca/en/canadian-shield/

    • Cool! I didn’t know about the CIRA DNS, but that’s such a reasonable solution. Thank you for sharing!

      • I think you need to do more home work before you comment on a censorship Bill Which is Bill S-210 This Bill will be use for more things than you can imagine 🤮👹☠

    • You are correct – it does exactly what you describe it as doing – IF you configure all the right devices the right way AND prevent changes.

      I think it is a little incomplete. I use a subscription DNS – but I also block 53 at the router perimeter. And all of the above will not stop a curious user who has heard about using DoH, which is almost easier to enable than all of CIRA’s instructions.

      The trend I see here (and definitely in C-11, and to some extent in C-18) is that the government – apparently including the Official Opposition – does not trust Canadians.

      You and I expect that Canadians need to be trusted in these matters, and all of the parties appear to think they know better.

  5. While analogs to Tipper Gore may be apt, the implications are more than a label on a CD. And the problem is indeed solved by making this available through CIRA by those who want to. I once knew someone who ran a web based message board for support of a software product. It was hacked and ‘sexually explicit material’ was placed on there, and it damaged the real content that was supposed to be there. It was not even a week out of date — the security safeguard customizations to meet US COPPA conformance made it impossible to patch quickly. These laws are often at loggerheads with one another and make it impossible to solve the non-intersecting solution set by the conditions these lawmakers seek to codify. Therein lies the problem with codification vs common law, redundant lawmaking, and the jurisdictional conundrum encountered by those who seek to comply?

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  7. What is the best way to push back against this bill for the everyday citizen?

    • Call your local representative: https://openparliament.ca/

      If they voted No, call your constituent office and express your approval, and explain WHY.
      If they voted Yes, express your displeasure and explain WHY.

      It might also be beneficial to contact the opposition to express your thoughts.

      I just left a message to mine. Luckily they voted No, but I still gave reasons why this is an awful bill that won’t even accomplish anything useful (e.g. easily bypassed with DNS change, DoH, etc)… other than further building an overtaxed nanny state..

      (Btw, thank you Michael for this blogpost. CBC gets $1.2B+ of our taxes and can’t even report on this.)

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  9. This appears to be founded on a dangerous misunderstanding of how the modern web works.

    This gets a bit technical.

    First – cloud hosted websites are increasingly the norm. There is no one-to-one between a web site and an IP address; there may be hundreds of websites behind one IP address. The site is determined by the Server Name Indication field. The direction this is going is to encrypt the SNI as well as the webpage data. There is no way for an ISP to know the website you are reaching, and no way to block just one website’s IP address, or even a few. You may block hundreds in the attempt to block one.

    Second, the Domain Name System (DNS) now has DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH), so that all requests to transform a name into an IP address can look like webpage requests. The ISP could try and block a few of those, but since the DNS does not actually provide content, that might get legally tricky. And – since DoH requests look like webpage requests, the ISP may not even be aware you are using a DNS service.

    There is a pithy 30-year-old quote for this…

    “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” – John Gilmore

    • It maybe founded on a dangerous misunderstanding but that won’t stop it. From the article (above):

      And what about the risk of overblocking? The bill not only envisions the possibility of blocking lawful content or limiting access to those over 18, it expressly permits it. Section 9(5) states that if the court determines that an order is needed, it may have the effect of preventing access to “material other than sexually explicit material made available by the organization” or limiting access to anyone, not just young people.

      So collateral damage is expected and even permitted. But that’s not a problem. After-all you need to think about the children!

  10. I merely desired to inform you that I perused your website and discovered it to be quite edifying and intriguing.

  11. I sont understand why is this add here… I may not agree entirely with this. If does, however stop adds like this from popping up… I may and will like the idea of the proposed bill

    • It is not technically feasible to implement without impacting lots of other businesses that have nothing to do with explicit content.
      It will be trivial for motivated teenagers to circumvent.
      It creates massive privacy problems, international business problems, and administrative costs that will impact almost anyone using the internet in Canada, for any reason.
      It’s a bad law.

  12. Sok Puppette says:

    I didn’t realize that idiotic nonsense had progressed. Sigh.

    > The bill, which is the brainchild of Senator Julie Miville-Duchêne,

    Well, actually it’s more the “brainchild” of the age verification industry lobbyists who paid her a visit shortly before she introduced it, bearing fantastical tales of the harmlessness and effectiveness of their snake-oil products and services.

    It seems they did kind of a road show to push this, the UK OSB, and the EU “child sexual abuse” garbage.

    > As I did then, I should preface criticism of the bill by making it clear that underage access to inappropriate content is indeed a legitimate concern.

    There is not, in fact, any credible evidence that it’s a significant problem at all. Even if it were, this bill would of course be an idiotic response, but please stop giving these fanatics ground for no good reason.

  13. Email you MPs

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  71. Alex Solzhenitsyn says:

    “Mature minors” – as underage children are now referred to by our Orwellian dictators – apparently are qualified to decide if they want sex-change surgery or if they want to be injected with toxic mRNA cocktails – but they are not qualified to watch porn?

    Yeah, I guess I see the logic in that.

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  73. Michael Shaw says:

    I’m surprised you support IQ tests when it seems clear you have little or no understanding of what they are or what they measure!

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  79. That’s the parents’ job.

  80. That’s not a good law that is for sure.
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  81. Quite scary and SUS tbh.
    Victoria Retaining Wall

  82. yikes. what happened Custom Gate

  83. I don’t want that.. Oh Canada.
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  84. Lola Sunkiss says:

    Sounds like a tekken villain these guys. Excavators Canberra

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