Yukon MP Ryan Leef is defending the federal government’s new anti-cyberbullying law just as the country’s privacy commissioner is raising questions about it.
The new bill, designed to protect children and youth from exploitation on the web, makes it illegal to share “intimate images” on the web without consent, and bolsters police powers to investigate online and order images taken down.
“Cyberbullying has had some of the most damning impacts on our children and our youth,” Leef said. “We’ve seen some tragic impacts in Canada where these images have been taken without consent and disseminated without consent with tragic consequences, where some of our youth have taken their own lives because of the embarrassment.”
The new legislation was crafted in the wake of a number of high-profile youth suicides. B.C.‘s Amanda Todd and Nova Scotia’s Rehtaeh Parsons both took their own lives after they were sexually exploited online.
Leef said that education for youth about the dangers and impact of cyberbullying is important to stop it, but the police also need stronger powers to enforce the removal of those images from the web.
While the focus of the bill is on cyberbullying, Leef said it also includes changes meant to help combat online hate speech and criminal harassment.
But those stronger powers are raising concern for federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.
Stoddart issued a statement following concern from civil rights groups alleging that new police powers in the bill go too far and violate Canadians’ rights to privacy. Stoddart said she wants more information about how the new powers will be used.
Critics of the draft law have called it another Conservative omnibus bill, and say that it uses cyberbullying as an excuse to give police dangerous powers to track Canadians’ online activity and even request data from internet service providers without a warrant.
Leef fended off accusations that the cyberbullying bill resurrects controversial measures from 2012’s “lawful access” bill, which died amid an outcry that it trampled online privacy rights.
The issue people had with the lawful access bill was over requirements for service providers to hand over basic subscriber information, and to allow for data intercept capabilities in their systems, Leef said, but those aren’t included in this bill.
Leef acknowledged that the web is a murky world that can be difficult to police properly, but he is confident that law enforcement won’t overstep its bounds when asking for Canadians’ information, especially because doing so could compromise a case in court.
“I think we’ve really struck the perfect balance between individuals privacy and the need for law enforcement to be able to access that information,” Leef said.
When it comes to the option for service providers to hand over information, Leef said that is a power that police already have in the physical world. Police officers are allowed to ask citizens to submit to a voluntary search without a warrant, and citizens are allowed to say no. This bill just extends that to the online world, Leef said.
“Service providers need to decide for themselves how generous to be, and the customers need to hold them to account,” he said.
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