British Columbia’s attorney general has sent a letter to technology companies warning they could face orders to stop the distribution of intimate images of B.C. residents that have been shared without their consent.
Niki Sharma said Thursday the Intimate Images Protection Act will come into force in the coming months and create new legal mechanisms to stop the online distribution of images such as near-nude photos, videos, livestreams and digitally altered content.
In a letter sent to companies, including Twitter, Meta, OnlyFans, and Pornhub, Sharma said they could be required to delete, de-index or destroy images, or provide information that is needed to help with the removal.
“The letter’s very clear, and they’re all on notice, that circulating or distributing intimate images is sexualized violence and will not be tolerated,” Sharma said at a news conference.
“I expect these technology companies to join me in condemning these terrible acts, and I expect them to share our goal of protecting people over profits.”
Cybertip.ca, a national hotline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children, says there’s been a 150 per cent increase in reported threats to distribute young people’s intimate images online over the past six months.
Sharma said the new law sets out liability for an online company that hasn’t taken reasonable steps to address the non-consensual distribution of photos or videos on their site, which can include an order for damages.
She said B.C.’s process would be complementary to the Criminal Code, which already outlaws the sharing of intimate images without consent.
“This process is set up to protect victims in terms of taking down the images and going after civil claims of damages against people in the event that they were harmed by those images,” she said.
Sharma acknowledged that jurisdictional issues are “complicated” when dealing with international technology companies and images distributed outside of B.C., but said the province does have mechanisms to enforce orders beyond its border.
“I expect them to comply with a court order from a British Columbian court with respect to a British Columbian citizen and their image,” she said.
“So that means where it’s distributing on their websites, no matter where it is, the obligation is to take it down.”
Sharma said she has already had a “productive” meeting with representatives from Google and expects to meet with other companies to talk about systems they can put in place to comply with the act.
“I expect that a lot of companies are wanting to protect people from this type of sexualized violence and (Google) certainly indicated that as well,” she said.
B.C.’s law comes as the federal government recently introduced a bill that would add those convicted of the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and extortion to the national sex offender database.
— Ashley Joannou, The Canadian Press