Bill C-58 Widens Definition of Internet Service Provider in Fight against Child Pornography
Canada has tabled Bill C-58, a new law making it necessary for ISPs to notify anyone suspected of trafficking, acquiring or possessing child pornography, and to preserve records of their Internet activity for 21 days afterwards. If the Bill is enacted, ISPs who do not comply could face fines up to $100,000. The law is intended to make it easier for police to catch people who possess and traffic in exploitative content.
Since the law has been tabled, some online commentary has claimed that this is just a backdoor way for the authorities to get ISPs to spy on the public. Others assert that this is merely unenforceable feel-good legislation that won’t contribute toward its stated goals. Will this law breach peoples’ privacy, will it fulfill its stated purpose, or will it be ineffective, the Internet version of the long-gun registry?
It is widely report that most major ISPs are already notifying authorities of the reports to the police, so I am not sure if this law accomplishes anything that is not already being done. That said, it seems reasonable to have laws that establish a code of conduct on the Internet that concurs with the rest of the Criminal Code.
I’ll address the privacy concerns first, as they are the easiest to allay. Alarmists have said that this law will require he ISPs to spy on the public to determine what content they are accessing. The legislation only states that ISPs must report evidence once it has become clear that a transgression has been made. Providers would not have to go in search of offensive content, but they are only required to act when they are alerted to offensive content. So while ISPs take a more active role in investigations when there are reasonable grounds to do so, it does not seem like they are being required to spy. Privacy is continuously being degraded as our information becomes more public on the ‘Net, but this law does not appear actively contribute toward that.
As for ineffectiveness, Michael Geist has indicated that the proposal would be ineffectual because it establishes a reporting system that works within non-anonymous networks, where the real problem lies within “newsgroups, private groups, and other private spaces that fall largely outside the potential for tips envisioned by Bill C-58.” The definition of ISPs in the proposed Act applies to “suppliers of Internet services to the public, e.g. Internet access, electronic mail, content hosting and social networking sites.” While anonymous services like The Freenet Project may be able to facilitate greater anonymity, the electronic mail and social networking inclusion probably does cover newsgroups.
While this law seems well thought out, there should be greater clarity on at least one aspect of the definition of an ISP, specifically what is meant by a “supplier of Internet services.” Could this include a wi-fi café, a grassroots civic network project or an unsecured router? Could these connectivity sources held liable if someone uses them to anonymously access illegal content?