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Conservative MP Says He Trusts Porn Companies Won’t Leak Digital IDs of Canadians Who Visit Porn Websites

Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives voted to introduce digital IDs for porn users

One of Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative MPs says Canadians who visit porn websites can trust companies won’t leak their personal information or viewing histories if a plan to mandate digital IDs for porn websites becomes law.

According to Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, the invisible hand of the free market would prevent such data breaches from ever happening in the first place.

This week, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre raised eyebrows after affirming his party’s support for controversial legislation introducing a digital ID system to verify the identity of anyone accessing pornography on the Internet.

Top law professors have widely criticized Bill S-210 as poorly-drafted legislation that is unconstitutional and likely to result in Canadians being blocked from accessing a wide-range of websites unrelated to pornography.

Similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in a number of US states while international governmental reports looking into the issue have concluded using digital IDs to verify porn users raise serious privacy and security concerns.

But in a recent TAG TV interview, the Conservative Shadow Minister for International Development defended Poilievre’s support for the anti-porn bill against criticisms that it raises serious privacy concerns.

“Some people are critical for ideological reasons and they say, well if there’s even a scintilla of a risk that there could be some privacy breach, then we shouldn’t provide this protection,” Genuis told TAG TV’s Tahir Gora.

“The way that the bill works is that the companies are responsible for undertaking meaningful age verification so the companies providing this have a responsibility to have meaningful mechanisms in place to verify the ages of those that are accessing sexual content.”

While Genuis conceded Canadians may have concerns about the possibility their names or viewing histories could be made public in a data breach, he stressed companies that provide sexual content have an “incentive” to prevent that from happening.

“Obviously those companies have an interest in protecting the privacy of people who provide that age verification,” Genius explained.

“The concern is that, ‘okay, if somebody has to provide age verification does that mean that there’s a risk that their name will get out that they’ve been accessing this material’, but the companies have an incentive to ensure protection for privacy.”

Genuis’ office did not respond to multiple requests from PressProgress seeking to clarify what that “incentive” is or elaborate on why he trusts companies to collect and store information such as the names, home addresses and viewing histories of Canadian porn website visitors.

According to Statistics Canada, one-third of large companies (36.5%) reported being impacted by cybersecurity incidents in 2021, with one-in-ten reporting they were targeted in attempts to steal personal or financial data.

A recent study commissioned by Apple reported 360 million people were impacted by corporate and institutional data breaches globally last year, with consumer data being among the top targets for hackers and ransomware attacks.

In 2021, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien told a Senate committee any digital ID verification system would necessarily require Canadians to provide their personal information to a third party and warned there are “risks associated with the collection and use of data needed for age verification.”

“In the absence of proper privacy measures, it could increase the risk of revealing adults’ private browsing habits,” Therrien said, pointing to the “risk of breaches, unauthorized use or reputational harm” and suggesting the technology could turn into a form of “surveillance” in a worst case scenario.

It’s unclear how a digital ID verification system would work in the context of porn companies located in foreign countries where the personal data of Canadians could be subject to loose privacy laws or vulnerable to malicious actors. While Genuis’ office offered no clarification, Therrien noted porn websites located “outside the country” would present “real enforcement issues.”

Some US states, including Louisiana, Utah, and Mississippi, have have recently passed laws which require Internet users to upload copies of driver’s licenses or passports to view pornography.

A recent report by the US Congressional Research Service reviewing these laws and technologies warned of “unintended consequences,” including serious “privacy and security concerns.”

Similarly, another report by France’s National Commission on Informatics and Liberty found existing age verification systems too “intrusive” and noted “all the solutions proposed can easily be circumvented.”

The NCIL is working to develop a more privacy-friendly token-based verification system, an idea touted as a possible solution by some Canadian MPs, however, the creator of that system acknowledges anyone can circumvent it by using a VPN.

Conservative MP Karen Vecchio, the bill’s sponsor, has admitted during debate that she was not sure how the technology to verify porn users would actually work and conceded anyone would probably be able to get around it by using a VPN.

“We know VPNs are a concern,” Vecchio said. “This is exactly why we need to take this to committee, so we can talk about the technology and all these gaps in our systems.”

 

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Luke LeBrun
Editor
Luke LeBrun is the Editor of PressProgress. His reporting focuses on the federal political scene, right-wing politics as well as issues in technology, media and culture.

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