Porn plan misguided

“Ninety-nine per cent” of Canada’s internet service providers voluntarily block their clients from accessing known child…

“Ninety-nine per cent” of Canada’s internet service providers voluntarily block their clients from accessing known child pornography websites, but justice ministers want them to begin reporting illegal online content.

The proposal is not feasible, say internet service providers.

At a recent Quebec City conference of federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers, a suggestion was made to pass legislation making it “mandatory for ISPs to report child pornography being hosted on their sites.”

“How would we know that? We don’t look at every internet user who happens to be one of our customers,” said Peter Bissonnette, president of Shaw Communications, one of Canada’s largest internet service providers.

“We just couldn’t do it, it’s such a pervasive challenge,” he said.

Shaw, along with other Canadian mega-providers, such as Rogers and Bell, are members of Project Cleanfeed, a federal program where access is voluntarily blocked to a list of foreign-based websites known to contain underage pornographic content.

In cases of known domestic-based websites containing underage pornographic content, information is simply passed onto Canadian authorities for criminal prosecution.

“Most of the big guys are now part of Project Cleanfeed … and we pretty well cover 99 per cent of the map in Canada,” said Bissonnette.

To date, the project has received 23,000 reports from the public relating to child pornography. In 2008, the project’s tipline led to 38 arrests and the removal of 2,850 websites.

Project Cleanfeed’s list of restricted sites is regularly updated through a process of collecting and investigating anonymous tips about suspected child pornography sites.

“(Project Cleanfeed) really does the role of doing the ‘looking,’ and then we enable the blocking,” said Bissonnette.

“ISPs do not have input into creating the list nor knowledge of what is contained on it,” notes the project on its website.

Occasionally, offending sites are identified and reported by Shaw employees through happenstance, but no comprehensive monitoring is in place, said Bissonnette.

Yukon-based Northwestel is not currently a member of Project Cleanfeed, but agrees that ISPs cannot be put in the position of scanning the internet for illegal content.

“We’re not the content managers; we do not monitor what people are doing in their e-mails or websites or whatever,” said Anne Kennedy, communications director for Northwestel.

“We can only respond if we’re ordered to or requested to — or if we become aware,” said Kennedy.

Feasible or not, the government is very interested in continuing to stamp down access to illegal pornographic content.

“It’s ubiquitous, anywhere where there’s an internet connection there’s potential for this stuff to be around,” said Dan Cable, director of policy and communications for the department of Justice.

“It’s a societal duty to protect children, obviously, and that includes internet exploitation of children. And so whatever we can do to enhance that, the government is generally in favour,” said Cable.

In the meantime, the work of Project Cleanfeed goes on.

“(Child pornography sites) could be in Barbados; they could be in Antigua; they could be in any third world country. It’s like hitting those squirrels at the carnival, one pops up, you whap it in the head and then it pops up somewhere else,” said Bissonnette.