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If Only It Were So Simple Mr. Prime Minister

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PM Stephen Harper on the left side listens while his agenda for the new session of Parliament is read by the GG of Canada

PM Stephen Harper on the left side listens while his agenda for the new session of Parliament is read by the GG of Canada

Yesterday, there was a throne speech to open up a new session of the Canadian Parliament. In my opinion it was quite lame for a government’s plan for a nation. That said, one particular item came up that I can see will only lead to a world of confusion. Before I get into this particular item, I want to go into a bit of history about one particular image and its use here in Canada, an image of Rehtaeh Parsons. Rehtaeh committed suicide in April 2013, not so long ago. Cyberbullying involving the publishing of photos and videos of Rehtaeh were part of the background that led to her suicide [click on the preceding link and it will take you to some relevant information on this]. Images of Rehtaeh were on Facebook and were “scraped” following a Google search by another party who then used her images and others to advertise an online dating service. Once he was made aware of the identity of Rehtaeh, the images were removed and the site was shut down. In Canada, the government is “getting tough on crime” and has promised the following addition to the criminal code as a result of the need to be perceived as doing something relevant in response.

New legislation will be introduced to address cyberbullying and invasion of privacy, intimidation and personal abuse. The legislation will include a new criminal offence that prohibits the non-consensual distribution of images.” [CTV news]

Now, after an initial thought of “certainly one should have the permission of the person in any photograph” before publishing that photo to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, any blog site or elsewhere. The truth is, one should get permission for taking a photograph. But this is the real world. Though I often ask verbally or non-verbally when language is an issue, I have taken photos of people all around the world without even this courtesy. Some of those photos have appeared on this blog site including today’s photo of our Prime Minister. With the new law, would I be required to take down all of these photographs? If so, I would comply. Or, is the law only prohibiting the non-consensual publishing of images that are related to cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, intimidation and personal abuse? If the latter, then there is a lot of work to define all of these to a significant degree. If the former, then it is simple. No permission [and here I assume that the permission can’t be assumed but must be witnessed oral permission or written permission with a signature to avoid creation of false permission data] – the image can’t be published. Publish it and you can be criminally prosecuted. Either way, I can live with it and comply.

But, and there is always a but, what about . . .

  1. Politicians who “scrape” images of their political competition in order to create “attack ads’? This is definitely bullying using images. Does the proposed “law” include politicians? Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper who has just proposed this law has to think seriously about this as he is the worst offender of this in Canadian political history. Can he be criminally charged? Is he responsible for such attack ads created on his behalf and paid for by his staff who then air them on television AND in cyberspace? Are the members of his staff who commission these attack ads liable for prosecution?
  2. Media – television and print media present newsworthy events using images of people, almost always without the permission of the person or people in the images. Are they then going to be culpable for publishing those  images and potentially facing jail time? If so, then the paparazzi profession is dead in the water.
  3. Police forces – what criminal will give permission for the publication of his or her image, especially when the police are using those images to try and capture the “criminal.” Or, are our police forces to be exempt from following the criminal code as it is to be amended?
  4. Think of all the social media sites that thrive on images. How will Facebook et al., ensure that the images hosted on their sites are there with proper, legal authorization of the person or people in the images? I imagine that wedding scenes and other similar social activities will cease being published because of the onerous permission trail that would need to be in place.

Yes, a law is no simple task. I wonder if our Prime Minister will think hard and long and in depth about this proposed law? Somehow, I doubt it.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

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