Pornhub could be blocked in Canada. What’s the bill behind the controversy? – National

A controversial bill proposing that porn sites should have an age verification requirement is coming up for study from the House of Commons amid concerns about its effectiveness in protecting minors and other privacy concerns.

The owners of Pornhub, one of the largest porn sites on the internet, have opposed the bill, calling it the “wrong legislation,” and say they’re considering blocking access to Canadians.

Bill S-210, An Act to restrict young persons’ online access to sexually explicit material, is a Senate bill currently making its way in reverse through the parliamentary process. That means it started in the Senate, passed that chamber in April 2023 and is now in the House of Commons for consideration.

It passed second reading in the House of Commons in December 2023 and is set to be studied by the standing committee of public safety and national security this spring.

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It was brought forward by Independent Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne in 2021.

“This is the bill that I’ve been defending for three years, which is, in essence, modest because what it says is that distributing porn is an infraction when it’s distributed to kids and organizations have to take precautions and have to do age verification,” she told Global News in an interview Tuesday.

“I believe that it’s the wise thing to do now because it can affect generations of children.”

Click to play video: 'Family Matters: Parents’ growing concerns surrounding teens and porn'

Family Matters: Parents’ growing concerns surrounding teens and porn

Miville-Dechêne said it’s “inconceivable” that a company like Pornhub “would choose to exit a market instead of doing age verification to protect children.”

Bill S-210 calls for websites offering pornographic content to verify the age of the users before they can access adult content or face fines of up to $250,000 per violation. This is to try to restrict users under the age of 18 years from watching porn.

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Websites that do not comply with this proposed legislation could be blocked and face a number of consequences.

Why was Bill S-210 introduced?

The purpose of the bill is to “protect the mental health of young persons” and to protect them from what it describes as the “harmful effects” of exposure to sexually explicit material.

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Miville-Dechêne said porn “gives a twisted vision of sexuality to kids” and can have “a negative impact on their development because their mind doesn’t see the difference between reality and performance.”

The bill also wants to deter organizations that make sexually explicit material available on the internet for commercial purposes from allowing young persons to access that material.

Miville-Dechêne said currently there are no age-specific requirements for who can access free porn in Canada, other than a page asking if you are 18 or not.

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“For the last 15 years, there has been absolutely no barrier to all the kids who want to go on porn sites and look at whatever there is there,” she said.

“Personally, I find it quite obvious that this material is not aimed at children.

“Porn is an adult entertainment and this has been our society consensus for years and years.”

How will the proposed law work?

Bill S-210 covers only websites and online platforms that offer sexually explicit material, as defined by the Criminal Code. These include sites that specialize in pornographic content.

Websites that offer pornographic and non-pornographic content may also be required to verify the age of their users before they can access the pornographic portions.

However, the age-verification requirement will only apply to the pornographic material, not the sites and platforms themselves.

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The bill does not propose any specific methods for age verification.

What are the concerns against Bill S-210?

Since free pornographic content is easily accessible online and cross-posted on different platforms, the bill’s intended purpose is facing scrutiny and questions.

“I think it’s a foolish move,” said Ann Cavoukian, executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre and former Ontario privacy commissioner.

“The ease with which people can gain access to porn sites these days and there’s hundreds, thousands of them — just by preventing one site, by requiring, some kind of age verification, I think is such a mistake,” she said in an interview with Global News.

How exactly the age verification will be done has also raised some privacy concerns.

Creating a digital ID system would be an “outrageous mistake” leaving zero privacy and giving access to a host of third parties, Cavoukian said.

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If your personal information gets in the “wrong hands” through the websites failing to protect it or being compromised, that could cause a lot of problems, she added.

Click to play video: 'Public safety minister says he reached out to RCMP to offer support in response to Pornhub accusations'

Public safety minister says he reached out to RCMP to offer support in response to Pornhub accusations

Bill S-210 proposes that before authorizing an age verification method, government regulations must consider whether the method is reliable, maintains user privacy and protects user personal information, and collects and uses personal information solely for age verification purposes, except to the extent required by law.

Regulations must also consider whether the method destroys any personal information collected for age verification purposes once the verification is completed.

Cavoukian said that is not a sufficient measure as the data collected can be copied fairly quickly and with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) can be extracted from databases.

“Once you collect this information, then you just consider it going out the door.”

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Data encryption is a strong form of protecting personal identification, but it’s not easy to implement.

On top of that, “brilliant hackers” can also break into weaker encryption models, Cavoukian said.

“I think it’s a dead end to consider going down this route.”

Instead, she recommended that porn sites put up statements saying anyone under the age of 18 is not permitted to use the site.

— with files from The Canadian Press 


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