The S-210 Bill, also recognised as the Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act, is progressing through the legislative channels in Canada. Having successfully navigated the House of Commons second reading and previously cleared the Senate, its primary objective is to mandate age verification for Canadians seeking access to adult content online, accompanied by potential penalties for non-compliance. However, the bill faces substantial criticism due to its narrow focus solely on age verification for pornography. Concerns have been raised regarding its effectiveness in shielding children from a spectrum of online threats encompassing violence, gambling, firearms, and hate speech.

The Digital Governance Standards Institute (DGSI) has proposed minimum standards for age verification methods, including options like a digital ID system or facial scans with age estimation technology. Critics argue that the bill lacks comprehensive safeguards for children against various forms of adult content and should encompass a broader application of age verification technologies. The Liberal Party, along with 133 Liberal Members of Parliament (MP), voted against the bill, expressing reservations about its limited scope.

Widespread opposition to the bill emerges from experts, government entities, and entities such as Pornhub. The Canadian Heritage minister’s office criticised the bill as “fundamentally flawed,” citing concerns about privacy, security, and technology. Dr Michael Geist, a law professor, voiced severe apprehensions about the bill’s implications, characterising it as an “avalanche” that amalgamates website blocking, face recognition technologies, and overreach, potentially impacting mainstream services.

Geist underscored potential privacy issues with mandated face recognition for age verification, citing fears of compromised user data. The bill proposes fines for non-compliance, and companies like Pornhub argue against regulations requiring the collection of substantial sensitive personal information, citing potential risks to user safety. Despite the bill’s progression, critics stress its potential ramifications on Canada’s internet freedom, censorship, and digital privacy rights. They advocate for alternative policy measures that address online threats to children without compromising broader aspects of internet use.

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