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IN OUR OPINION: Online civil law needed to help victims

Getting exploitative images offline faster will help many victims, but not a complete solution
Don Denton photograph

This province is about to implement a new law that will make it easier for people to have intimate images of themselves removed from the internet.

It’s badly needed, and well intentioned, the question is, how well will it work?

The explosion of digital images and the internet during the last quarter century has changed the way photos – including those taken for private purposes, or with malicious intent – can circulate.

While sharing intimate images of someone else online is already illegal under Canadian law, the new B.C. legislation is intended to allow swifter civil action – particularly for minors.

The most obvious victims of these attacks have been teens like Amanda Todd, who committed suicide after a lengthy period of online sexual extortion by an adult man, Aydin Coban.

But the Todd case also shows one of the difficulties of the issue.

Coban, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the Todd case, wasn’t in B.C. or even Canada while he was attacking Todd.

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He committed his crimes from the Netherlands.

It took a long time to bring him to justice, including eight years of investigation and court procedure before he was even extradited to Canada to face trial in 2020.

A civil case launched in B.C. will do some good. Photos stored on servers in North America, Europe, and much of Asia will likely be within reach of Canadian courts, which can demand compliance from many large hosting companies. Firms like Amazon and Google that do business in Canada can’t afford to ignore rulings from Canadian courts to remove or de-index materials.

But there are jurisdictions where local authorities may simply ignore the rulings of judges in far-off B.C.

It’s not as if Russian hackers care much what happens here, for example. Our country’s relationship with Russia is about as bad now as it was during most of the Cold War, if not worse.

This isn’t to say that the new law won’t be worthwhile, and even effective in many cases.

Many of these incidents are very local, and stamping them out fast will be a big help to a lot of people. When it comes to the internet, the longer an image circulates, the more difficult it becomes to ultimately remove it. Speed is the best ally victims have in their efforts to protect themselves from further harm.

But there are still parts of the internet that are lawless.

Education can help too, especially with young people. Warning them about the kinds of tactics online predators are likely to use will hopefully help more kids avoid the need to use the new law at all.

- M.C.