OTTAWA — Canada’s federal privacy commissioner
warned that a proposed age verification bill for adult content online
could increase the risk of revealing adults’ private browsing habits.
The bill, S-203, was introduced last fall into the Canadian Senate by
Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne (Independent, Quebec/Inkerman) under the
name “Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act.”
Miville-Dechêne’s bill “doesn’t specify what that verification would look like,” the National Post reported today.
“Options under consideration include presenting some type of ID to a
third-party company or organization or the use of technologies such as
biometrics or artificial intelligence to estimate age,” the report
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien testified today before the
Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee, noting that most
existing digital age verification systems will result in the user
ultimately being required to provide some amount of personal
information, which may not be secure.
As for the possibility of using biometrics or facial recognition to
verify or estimate a user’s age, Therrien explained, it would raise
“unique privacy concerns.”
Therrien, Canada’s top privacy officer, referred to biometric
technology as “generally very intrusive” and, at the moment, inaccurate
as a tool to ascertain the actual age of the person measured.
"There’s a considerable margin of error, and an error of two to three
years could be significant depending on the age of the person,” the
National Post reported.
Miville-Dechêne’s bill, which was promoted with a presentation that
included a stock image of a cis female blonde child covering her eyes in
a darkened room before a computer monitor, asserted it would “subject
to criminal sanctions pornographic websites that do not effectively
verify users’ age before providing access to sexually explicit material”
and gave the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness — an
unelected official and political appointee — the power to “order
internet service providers to block access to sites that contravene
provisions of this bill.”
Miville-Dechêne is also an unelected official: Canadian Senators are
appointed. She is a former journalist and broadcaster proposing a
peculiar form of state censorship and yet she does not appear to have
specialized knowledge of universal technical and systemic issues
regarding third-party content moderation on the internet.
Her official Senate website
brags that Miville-Dechêne, following her appointment in 2018, has
introduced two Senate public bills: Bill S-216 on modern slavery, a bill
that would require more transparency from businesses on the use of
forced labor and child labor in their supply chain; and Bill S-203 that
would require the implementation of age verification methods online to
protect minors from exposure to online pornography.
Last month, Miville-Dechêne spoke to the francophone CBC outlet Radio Canada for an in-depth piece
on the religious motivation of the current anti-Pornhub crusade
spearheaded by Alberta Conservative Arnold Viersen with the support of
U.S. anti-porn crusader Laila Mickelwait from the Exodus Cry ministry.
She told Radio Canada that although she does not share the ideology
of “that American group [Exodus Cry],” she tackles the issue of sexual
exploitation "under a feminist angle."
“The issue of children watching online porn as well as the presence
of illegal content on porn sites have gathered a large coalition of
Canadian citizens who are ideologically different, but who agree with
each other on these two precise objectives,” she added.
However, in April, Miville-Dechêne said that “protecting children
against pornography is both a health and a public safety issue,” echoing
terminology about a supposed “porn addiction" that has been repeatedly
debunked, as well as the NCOSE and Exodus Cry myth that there is a
“public health crisis” around watching porn.
“Exposing minors, especially boys, to online porn is associated with a
number of harmful effects: addiction, aggressive sexual behaviors,
fear, anxiety and an increase in sexist beliefs that particularly affect
girls and women,” she told the committee.
Mickelwait was also invited to testify before Canada’s parliament in
support of Miville-Dechêne’s bill, although the Senator alleged to Radio
Canada that she had never “worked alongside Exodus Cry.”
Main Image: Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne (Source: Canada Senate)