CNet News Briefs
Friday, June 27, 1997

Axworthy doesn't scare Net freedom fighters

by Sam Ladner,

Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy's most recent call for Internet regulation may have ruffled a few feathers in Canadian cyberspace, but a leading proponent of Internet freedom says the minister's bark is worse than his bite.

"I wonder if it's all just hollow words", Electronic Frontier Canada president David Jones told CNET Canada Briefs. "If we look back into the last few months, other Canadian officials have said such things, and absolutely nothing has happened."

In a Toronto speech earlier this week, Axworthy conceded that the ability of the Internet transcend boundaries. But he went on to warn conference-goers: "There's another side to this globalism, the under side, the dark side."

Axworthy said child pornographers, terrorists, and drug traffickers can exploit the Internet, and that time is running out for the international community to respond to these threats.

"The policy decisions must be made, and made fast", Axworthy urged the international audience. "I don't think we have a lot of time to lose before that same technology escapes us."

Despite Axworthy's urgent tone, Jones says he isn't worried that the Canadian government will impose stringent controls any time soon.

He's not alone in that belief, but others in the Internet community suggest that controls should and will come. Rick Broadhead, co-author of the Canadian Internet Handbook, agrees that Axworthy's speech won't translate into concrete laws in the near future, but he says it's not too premature to be talking about controlling the new medium.

If governments want to enforce existing laws on the Internet, the time to start looking for solutions to such a complex issue is now, Broadhead says. "This is not something we can deal with by next week, or even in the next few years."

Jones takes heart that, should Canadian laws be introduced, they could follow the same fate of the American Communications Decency Act, struck down this week by the United States Supreme Court.

But Jones says following the American example may not always mean more freedoms for Canadian surfers. He says it's no coincidence that Axworthy's speech came on the heels of the recent G7 summit in Denver. Axworthy may well have been influenced by his American colleagues who have been trying to restrict the use of encryption technology by U.S. citizens, Jones says.

"I think we have to ask ourselves where his remarks are coming from, and if they're coming from the United States", Jones says.

Copyright © 1997 by Rogers Multi-Media and CNET, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.