Canada Free Expression Privacy

Civil society: Bill S-210 “cannot be allowed to pass” in current form

Joint statement raises urgent concerns with age verification Bill S-210

January 29, 2024 — Today, OpenMedia and 9 civil society groups and experts released a joint letter to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, outlining key concerns with Bill S-210, An Act to restrict young persons’ online access to sexually explicit material, and demanding the committee not pass S-210 in its current form. 

The joint letter presents three key concerns with Bill S-210: privacy risks to Canadian internet users caused by unsafe age verification measures; the bill's overly broad scope, which would lock access to most Canadian Internet services, not only adult websites; and the use of court-ordered website blocking as a remedy. While the signatories acknowledge the value of protecting young people, they emphasize the need for a careful balance between this goal and safeguarding citizens' essential rights– a balance that Bill S-210 does not strike.

A key concern of the letter is S-210’s lack of protection against websites adopting fundamentally unsafe age verification measures, including uploading government IDs, live facial analysis, and scanning user social network activity. This risk is compounded by the broad scope of Bill S-210, which does not restrict itself to websites that intentionally distribute adult material, but targets any web service used to access adult material. As a result, mainstream platforms, services, and potentially even internet service providers are included and would be obligated to lock their services. Due to these concerns, the letter’s signatories conclude that Bill S-210 cannot be allowed to pass into law in its current form. The signatories welcome opportunities to further discuss their concerns.  

Alongside the joint letter, today OpenMedia launched a new grassroots campaign for Canadians to share their key concerns with Bill S-210 with their MPs, and a FAQ explaining Bill S-210’s problems in more detail.

Press quotes: 

Bill S-210 puts a giant lock over most of the Internet, and demands Canadians compromise our privacy to turn the key. While protecting young people from age-inappropriate material is important, legislation that does so must be reasonable, proportionate, and respectful of everyone’s rights. The extreme provisions of S-210 must be rejected, either by dropping or fundamentally reworking the bill." - Matt Hatfield, Executive Director of OpenMedia

"Bill S-210 presents a clear danger to the more than 170,000 sex workers in Canada. Many people in Canada use income generated via on-line content to feed and house their families. The Government has once again failed to consult with or even consider the impacts on sex working people. What will our community do? Will we be forced back to the streets?" - Susan Davis of the BC Coalition of Experimental Communities

“Bill S-210 is a grossly disproportionate and ill-considered approach to protecting children. “Its reliance on as-yet unspecified age verification technology poses significant privacy risks, and the threat it creates for Canadians’ rights to free expression is just as concerning. The Bill explicitly and alarmingly contemplates blocking access for adults and to non-sexually-explicit material. Further, since it applies at the level of email providers, social media networks, and search engines, it creates a court process where content creators are not entitled to participate and defend their rights.” - Aislin Jackson, Policy Staff Counsel at the BC Civil Liberties Association

“This bill, in attempting to deal with an important concern for children’s online safety, is scoped so broadly that it creates significant privacy risks for every person in Canada who uses common internet sites. The multiple problems it creates are as troubling as the one it seeks to solve.” - Brenda McPhail, Director of Executive Education, Masters of Public Policy Program, McMaster University

OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet. Take action now

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