CNet News Briefs
Thursday, January 8, 1998

Protect us, please

While Canadians cry for protection from the bad Web sites, the real threats walk on by

by Mitchel Brown, mitchell@yahoo.ca

It was just a few days before Christmas Day, and I was getting ready to settle down for a quiet winter's evening. Then I made the mistake of opening up the newspaper. Normally, that's not a bad thing, but every once in a while you come across a story that just makes you wonder how this country makes it through another day. I mean, do we aim that shotgun for the foot every chance we get, or what?

The source of my bile - well, the latest one, anyway - was a front-page story in the Montreal Gazette. In a year-end poll tracking Canadian attitudes, about 66 per cent of respondents said they want government to step in and regulate the Net. Among women in the 35-54 age groups - those most likely to be mothers of preteen and teenage children - the number goes up to 80 per cent.

Fine, you might say to yourself. These people have legitimate fears about the type of material that's out there, and they don't understand how difficult it is to regulate cyberspace. Education and familiarity with the Net is all that's needed to solve the problem.

But read on. According to the article, the people polled were indeed familiar with the Net, and they knew how difficult it would be to enforce any Net-related legislation. Still, they felt the issue was a moral one, and the government should at least make the effort to rein in the Net, if only for the sake of the children.

OK, so Canadians aren't exactly known for asking their government to mind its own business. From health care to television to the color of margarine on Quebec dinner tables, government has become the big boy on the block because we happily let it.

Whether you agree this is a good or a bad thing is another discussion entirely. But really, shouldn't we draw the line somewhere? What does it say about us when a majority of people think that getting the government to spend gobs of cash on a hopeless cause is better than doing nothing at all?

The fact is, protecting kids from the Net is really a no-brainer. Educate your kids by teaching them to use the Net properly, then sit in on their surfing time to guarantee that they don't go anywhere you don't want them to go. Install filter software such as Net Nanny, which block objectionable pages from your desktop. And if neither of these options are acceptable, then join an online service provider like AOL Canada, who make a business out of giving you only what you want to see.

While we wobble and worry about naughty pictures and bad words, the real stories are, as usual, walking right on by. For instance, did you know that Canada's telephone companies are asking the CRTC to consider mandatory registration for the country's Internet service providers? Better known as the Stentor Alliance, this group says that, since the Net has the capability to provide long-distance service, ISPs should register and be subject to the same rules as the long-distance phone companies.

Mind you, the major phone players wouldn't dream of hobbling any potential future competitor with their lobbying clout; they just want a level playing field for everyone. Sure. I'll give them the benefit of a doubt. But let me ask you this: when was the last a lot of big companies in the same business agreed to put aside their differences aside in order to protect your liberties and save you money?


Those online pornographers don't seem so scary now, do they?

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Related Web sites:
Stentor Alliance
Majority want curbs on Internet
Web telephony to bring Net regulation?

Copyright © 1998 by Rogers Multi-Media and CNET, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.