The CRTC determined yesterday that industry self-regulation, filtering technologies and existing legislation are enough to keep nefarious Internet content under control.
In making that decision, the CRTC implicitly acknowledged that government regulation of the Internet is ineffective -- if not impossible, said Rick Broadhead, co-author of The 1999 Canadian Internet Handbook and an industry consultant.
Still, Mr. Broadhead warned that self-regulation by Internet service providers, broadly interpreted laws that tackle anything from libel to child pornography and technologies that let Internet users filter out offensive content must be used in combination to battle problematic material on the World Wide Web.
Internet filtering technologies, for example, typically use key words such as "kiddie porn" to prevent information from getting into the hands of children. That's hardly perfect since agreeable Web sites can be filtered out while some bad ones still slide through.
By programming software to disallow a word such as "breast", some pornography sites may be caught but others, such as a site for breast-cancer research, might also be filtered out, Mr. Broadhead said.
A backup to filtering technology is self-regulation by the Internet service providers who make accessing the Web possible.
Ron Kawchuk, president of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, said the organization's 125 members have developed "rules of the road" -- guidelines they are encouraged to follow when dealing with customers.
In addition to basic requirements to respect customer privacy and ensure on-line security, the association's code of conduct includes a process for co-operating with authorities in taking illegal content off the Web. Internet service providers don't actively monitor content, Mr. Kawchuk said, but they do act when instructed to do so by authorities.
The CRTC suggests that Internet providers establish an ombudsman to handle complaints, something Mr. Kawchuk said his association will consider.
"That's something the board will have to determine", Mr. Kawchuk said, adding that the ombudsman's precise role would need to be defined.
"How can [an ombudsman] be judge and jury about certain types of content?"
That's where existing Canadian legislation comes into play. In its decision, the CRTC said laws are adequate to deal with most crimes or offences related to the Internet.
Richard Nathan, a partner with law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt and co-chairman of its technology business group, said broadly interpreted libel, hate, pornography, contract, intellectual property, and fraud laws can be applied to the Internet today.
He said the Internet may make it easier to breach these laws more frequently and easily, "but that's an argument for more enforcement, it's not an argument for new legislation".