As the Canadian parliament debates legislation regarding age verification for adult content sites, one researcher is calling for the country to implement measures to protect children online. Bill S-210, officially known as An Act to restrict young persons’ online access to sexually explicit material, recently passed its second reading in the House of Commons with a vote of 189 to 133.
Surprisingly, the majority of Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs) voted against the bill, as the government has been working on its own online harms bill that has yet to be tabled. However, with support from the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party (NDP), Bloc Québécois, and some Liberal MPs, Bill S-210 has moved forward for further review.
The bill proposes mandatory age verification processes for accessing sites with adult content, similar to existing measures for gambling sites and those that sell alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis. Various countries, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, and some states in the United States, have successfully implemented similar legislation.
Despite the potential benefits, critics have raised concerns about privacy and freedom of expression. In response, the researcher, whose PhD research focuses on anonymous age verification systems, highlights the importance of considering privacy and security in online age verification.
The researcher notes that several methods exist for online age verification, with the most popular being ID document matching, facial recognition, and third-party verification. ID document matching involves users uploading images of their government-issued identification, with optical character recognition technology used to extract the date of birth. Liveness checks can also be conducted to confirm authenticity.
Third-party verification allows users to verify their age through trusted entities, such as credit card or bank account information. Biometric-based age verification, utilizing artificial intelligence, is also being explored, with options including facial analysis, speech, fingerprints, heart signals, and irises.
Participants in a recent European pilot program on online age verification preferred facial estimation as the top choice, considering it easy, fast, and less invasive. However, strict regulations must be in place to protect users’ personal data, similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation policies.
Bill S-210 aims to implement reliable age verification methods that collect personal information solely for verification purposes, with data being destroyed immediately after verification. However, alongside technological readiness, social awareness is crucial to encourage proper adoption of age verification measures.
The urgency for action is emphasized by the increasing number of online sexual luring cases involving children in Canada. Tragic incidents of children dying by suicide after being victimized online highlight the need for immediate measures to protect children. Canada must not fall behind in safeguarding children in the online space and should prioritize the implementation of safety measures.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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