A new law forcing Internet service providers to report child pornography risks catching innocent citizens in its net, Liberal MP Derek Lee warned. Nevertheless, other MPs from all parties analyzing the legislation today supported it and projected that it will be approved by the House of Commons.
Lee objected to the wording of Bill C-22 at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The bill says that Internet service providers must report any reasonable suspicion that child pornography may be on a website that they provide to the public. It was the words “may be” that Lee found objectionable. He worried that a website owner might be reported without the service provider even knowing for sure whether the website contains child porn or not. “They don’t even have to know,” he said. He referred to the bill as a “snitch law” with a “low threshold.”
Normand Wong, a Department of Justice lawyer, answered that the bill was written in such a way that if service providers receive a tip from a user about child pornography on a website, the service providers shouldn’t have to confirm the presence of child pornography themselves. Doing so would go against the second principle of the legislation, stopping the consumption of child porn.
All Internet service providers are responsible for doing is reporting their reasonable suspicion of the presence of child photography to an authority such as the police. It is the police’s job to then analyze the content of the website.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson lauded the bill as being “about sending a message to those who provide internet services to the public that they have a social, moral, and now a legal duty to report this heinous material when they encounter it.” He noted that the majority of service providers already report child porn voluntarily, but that this law will make it mandatory.
Most opposition MPs on the committee voiced minor concerns and suggestions about the bill but were as a whole supportive. “This is a good bill. This is a good idea,” said Liberal MP Murphy. “No one can be against it,” Block MP Marc Lemay said. “We do support this bill,” Liberal MP Marlene Jennings said.
NDP MP Joe Comartin raised a question. He gave the example of someone sending a picture of a baby in a bathtub, or a piece of art, and worried that such a person might be prosecuted.
Department of Justice lawyer Wong dismissed these worries by pointing to the fact that the bill requires service providers to have “reasonable grounds” for believing that a site may contain child pornography. Family photos and art do not qualify as child porn. If such a case ever went to trial, it would not succeed. “There are a number of different hoops that the Crown would have to jump through,” he said.