Conservative government would require websites to verify age to watch porn: Poilievre

OTTAWA — A future Conservative government would change the law to require that porn websites verify the age of users to prevent minors from accessing the content, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre signalled on Wednesday.

When asked whether his government would require porn websites to verify the age of users, Poilievre gave a one−word answer: "Yes."

He didn’t offer further explanation, and his office quickly followed up with a clarifying statement asserting that the Tories don’t believe in the imposition of a digital ID.

The Tories are sponsoring and supporting a Senate private member’s bill that promises to require age verification for people to access pornography online.

Bill S−210 passed in the Senate in the spring and New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Conservative MPs voted to send it to a House of Commons committee for study. No such meetings have been scheduled yet.

The proposed law would require websites to verify users’ ages before they can access sexually explicit content, and it would penalize sites that don’t comply.

But it does not specify how that would be done.

Options could include the use of a digital government ID, as some U.S. states have legislated, or services that can estimate age based on a scan of a person’s face.

Such suggestions have prompted widespread concern from privacy experts about their overarching impacts — from the risks associated with asking Canadians to share personal information with an external provider to the use of measures such as facial recognition technology.

Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Poilievre, said shortly after the leader’s remarks Wednesday that Conservatives do not support any measures that would allow the imposition of a digital ID or infringe on the privacy of adults and their freedom to access legal content online.

The bill making its way through Parliament was introduced by Sen. Julie Miville−Dechêne, an Independent Senators Group member.

Conservative Ontario MP Karen Vecchio is sponsoring the bill in the House of Commons.

In a speech to the Commons in November, Vecchio said "there should be no direct collection of identity documentation by the site publisher from the pornographic site, no age estimates based on the user’s web browser history and no processing of biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying or authenticating a natural person."

The Conservatives have not proposed any alternatives for how porn sites could verify users’ ages without such systems.

Some websites that feature adult content, alcohol or cannabis currently ask for a user’s age to enter the website, but the sites do not verify the information and rely on an honour−system approach.

The Liberals were the only ones to vote against the bill in the House, saying it doesn’t do enough to protect children and promising pending online harms legislation will offer a  more comprehensive suite of policies on child safety.

The company that owns Pornhub recently told The Canadian Press that blocking access to Canadians is among options it would consider if the Senate bill passes.

Similar laws requiring internet porn sites to verify a user’s age have been passed in several U.S states. After Louisiana required that a government ID be used to access Pornhub, traffic took a nosedive.

The company is fighting the bill and argues any regulations that require sites to collect significant amounts of highly sensitive personal information will put user safety in jeopardy.

An executive with Ethical Capital Partners, which owns Pornhub’s parent company, Aylo, said it would prefer an approach that would verify a user’s age through a device, such as their smart phone.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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