Michael Geist on Bill S-210

May 18, 2024

I can’t remember when I first heard of Prof. Michael Geist, but I’ve been following his work since at least the late-2000s. I got to meet him at a CIRA mixer event held on the evening after the 2015 directors meeting in Halifax. He’s extremely sharp, and was also a very pleasant person to chat with.

He’s written a lot about bill C-18, which I consider to be a terrible piece of legislation 1. C-18, the Online News Act, imposes fees on “digital news intermediaries” like Google and Meta for linking to Canadian news sources. When this law came into effect, Meta stopped allowing Canadian news to be linked on its services (examples being Facebook and Instagram). Google eventually agreed to pay $100 million annually, but also made “immediate changes to existing deals it has with publishers in Canada under its Google News Showcase agreements”, likely meaning that its level of spend didn’t change all that much. There’s a lot more to this, but it’s fair to say that the law didn’t turn out the Liberal government or Canadian news organizations hoped. Geist saw the consequences of C-18 coming well in advance.

Geist has also been tracking Bill S-210. He did a great job laying out many of the dangers of the bill in a piece late last year. Earlier this week, he wrote an update on the bill in a post titled Bill S-210 Study Without Witnesses?: Why a Conservative Filibuster May Lead to New Internet Age Verification Requirements and Website Blocking Legislation.

It’s really worth reading both articles, but the short version is that S-210 will try to prevent minors from seeing pornographic materials by requiring some form of age verification before accessing any website that could potentially contain adult content. Current ideas for verifying one’s age are facial scans or digital IDs. The problem is that many sites could contain adult content — for example Google, Reddit, or even Wikipedia. The age verification is a requirement for everyone, not just minors, and the Canadian Government doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to safeguarding private information. Conservative members of Parliament are trying to prevent issues with the bill from being raised. They’ve also engaged in what seem to be bad-faith “think of the children” attacks when defending their position on the filibuster.

The main reason I’m writing this is because I think Geist did a great job outlining the dangers of C-18 and was proven prescient. Now he’s raising the alarm about legislation that appears even more dangerous, and I want to help raise awareness. Maybe some people’s hearts are in the right place around S-210, but it seems poorly drafted and ripe for abuse. Even in the best case, S-210 looks like a privacy nightmare.

  1. He’s also written a lot about bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, which is yet another piece of internet legislation I consider wrongheaded. We’ve been on quite a roll here in Canada!