Westward Independent

Bill S-210: Online Privacy at Risk?

by Joseph Enslow
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In a move that has sparked widespread concern among privacy advocates and internet users across Canada, a new bill making its way through Parliament threatens to significantly alter the landscape of internet freedom under the banner of protecting minors from sexually explicit materials.


David Fraser, a renowned privacy, internet, and technology lawyer, has emerged as a vocal critic of the bill, shedding light on its far-reaching implications.


Fraser, speaking from his experience as a legal expert and educator, warned, “There’s a bill working its way through the Parliament that presents a clear and present danger to the free and open Internet, to freedom of expression, and to privacy online.” This statement underscores the gravity of the legislation, which, while aiming to safeguard children, may inadvertently impose stringent restrictions on the digital rights of all Canadians.


Introduced by Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, the bill requires global websites to implement age verification processes to prevent minors from accessing sexually explicit content. On the surface, this initiative aligns with the public’s interest in protecting the youth. However, Fraser points out a critical flaw in the legislation’s approach: “It will require any website on the entire global internet that makes sexually explicit material available to verify the age of anyone who wants access to ensure that they are not under the age of 18.”

 

The primary concern revolves around the bill’s broad definitions and its potential to infringe upon privacy. Fraser elaborates, “The devil, as they say, is in the details. It presents a real risk to privacy, a real risk to freedom of expression, and a real danger to the open Internet in Canada.” By mandating age verification, the bill could force websites to collect sensitive personal information, raising significant privacy and security concerns.


Moreover, the legislation’s scope could extend beyond explicit content, affecting educational materials on sexual health, art, and literature. Fraser highlights the potential for overreach:


“The definition is so broad that it covers Wikipedia articles related to art, reproduction, and sexual health. It is certainly not limited to materials that would solely cause a reasonable risk of harm to a young person.”


The enforcement mechanisms proposed by the bill, including the power granted to regulatory authorities like the CRTC, have also been a point of contention. Fraser fears that this could lead to excessive regulation and censorship,
“The enforcement authority, who I’m afraid, will be the CRTC’s porn police, may issue a notice…essentially blocking the site.”


As the bill garners support among lawmakers, the debate intensifies over the balance between protecting minors and preserving the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Fraser’s critique serves as a call to action for a more nuanced discussion on internet regulation, urging lawmakers to consider the unintended consequences of their efforts to protect children.


While the intentions behind the bill may be commendable, its implementation raises critical questions about the cost to Canadians’ privacy and freedom. As this legislation progresses, it is imperative for the public, legal experts, and lawmakers to engage in a thorough examination of its potential impacts, ensuring that the pursuit of protection does not come at the expense of the liberties that define the open internet.


– Joseph

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