Copyright © 1996 by The Edmonton Journal. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

August 14, 1996

Censored

Internet Connect pulls the plug
on 15 controversial newsgroups


KERRY POWELL
Journal Crime Writer

A local Internet service provider pulled 15 newsgroups from the slate of thousands it delivers to its customers after police suggested the content is illegal.

Internet Connect Inc. hasn't received any complaints from users since it removed groups which contained pictures of child pornography and bestiality, said systems manager Kelly Shubert.

While no service provider has ever been convicted of possession or distribution of obscene material, he said he wanted to play it safe.

"It was a strong suggestion (from police) and we did it and we didn't have a problem doing it . . . If they can give me any warning to protect my customers or my company in the future, I appreciate it."

Last month, Canada's largest Internet service provider iStar cut 35 off-color newsgroups without telling its customers. Some of the groups' names referred to sex and babies or "tiny girls" and contained pictures of adult men urinating on children.

Users said they didn't like the company deciding what they could and could not see. But Justice Minister Allan Rock called it a "responsible action."

He noted Industry Canada has set up a panel to recommend ways to control hate propaganda and obscenity on the Net.

Laws addressing computer crime are evolving with online technology, said Det. Dave Johnston of the police technological crimes unit.

"As the law stands right now, we don't see that (Internet service providers) are responsible for their content, but if they come across something they feel is illegal they can give us a call."

Another service provider said it won't be following Internet Connect's lead and yanking controversial newsgroups.

"We're not going to censor our system and control what our users read," said David Papp, systems manager at OA Internet Inc. "Quite honestly, I'm not sure how we would do that anyway."

He and Shubert agreed it would be impossible to monitor the content of the 23,000 newsgroups their companies have access to.

"I couldn't employ enough people to read every group every day," Shubert said. "And we don't read other people's e-mail. It is possible but I don't have time to read my own - forget everybody else."

Cyber-law

Question: When am I, as a Net user, breaking the law regarding child pornography?

Answer: "If you receive an e-mail from sombody and look at it and say 'My heavens, That's disgusting' and get rid of it, you are doing the right thing,'' says Det. Dave Johnston with the city police economic crime unit.

But if you look at it and decide to store or download the material into your computer, you are in possession of child pornography, according to the Criminal Code.

If you go one step further and decide to e-mail the material to some friends or post it, you have crossed over the line and are now distributing child pornography, according to the Criminal Code.

Question: What can I do if I know of someone who is in possession or distributing child pornography via the Web.

Answer: "We have no authority to go in and read people's e-mail,'' says Johnston. "We respond to complaints so if you come across something that is illegal, get a hold of us and we can advise you.''

Keeping kids away

The best prevention is parental supervision. But if that is not always possible, there are filtering software packages will stop children from accessing controversial material.

One of four major packages is Net Nanny which retails locally for about $55 which allows parents to block pornography, hate literature and any other unwanted material. The program uses a customized "key-word'' dictionary that parents can edit to keep children from accessing Web sites containing words like sex, nudity, hate or even phrases such as "what is your address?'' The dictionary containes more than 1,000 words parents can use or edit.

Nanny also has an audit-trail component, which lets parents monitor what sites their children have been accessing.

Other software packages available include SurfWatch, CYBERsitter and Cyber Patrol.

But buyers beware. A software package can quickly become outdated as sites on the Internet are constantly changing or being undated, says Detective Dave Johnston with the city police economic crimes unit.

"There is no exchange for good parental supervision,'' says Johnston.

Censorship sites

Electronic Frontier Canada

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition