An online April Fool's joke didn't have a local Internet police investigator laughing yesterday.
A Toronto group set up a fake Web site to mock the idea of regulating the Internet. But a related e-mail message looked a little too real for a Halifax businessman, who complained to police.
"The joke's on them", said Sgt. Bill Cowper, Halifax regional police's Internet expert yesterday.
"This type of game opens a person up to charges of mischief under the Criminal Code. Clearly this creates quite a lot of wasted time trying to figure what's going on and a lot of undue concern on the part of the person who made the complaint."
The businessman, who runs an Internet company, told Cowper yesterday morning he had received an unsolicited e-mail telling him to register his web site with the "Canadian Internet Licensing Board."
The businessman called several government agencies to find out more about the board, and was eventually referred to Cowper.
"The person was quite concerned", said Cowper. "Of course, there is no Information Highway Act in Canada and this is a bogus agency. But this is quite elaborate official-looking Web site."
Cowper spent the better part of the day investigating the made-up "licensing board" and tracked it to a marketing company in Toronto, called Hip Hype Incorp.
"Of course, it was a joke", said Carol Feeny of Hip Hype. "It becomes more and more ludicrous as you read through our Web site."
Feeny said the "Canadian Internet Licensing Board" and its home page are satirical works to draw attention to the absurdity of trying to regulate the Internet.
"We are trying to get people to think about these issues", she said. "There is a lot of talk about developing guidelines and regulations on the Internet. This is a medium which cannot, and should not, be regulated by the CRTC, the government of Canada or any other group.
"This is our online stunt to make sure that never happens."
The board's home page contains a press release saying the agency is authorized to issue English-language Canadian Web site licences.
The hoax was going to be unveiled as an April Fool's Day joke Tuesday, said Feeny. The e-mail message was sent to people on mailing lists about Internet censorship, she said.
"We thought the (licensing board) director's name (H. Oser) was a dead giveaway", she said. "We had a lot of fun making it up."
But Feeny said she was shaken when Cowper called her yesterday. "I was quite startled when the sergeant called and said we could be charged with mischief... We had received such positive feedback from the site that when he called and threatened to charge us, it kind of made me hold my breath. The only place we have received a complaint is from Halifax", she said.
After talking with Feeny, Cowper said he got the joke, but asked her to change the Web page to make it more obvious.
"We were more than willing to co-operate", Feeny said. "We are going to soften the tone and on each page we are going to write `It's a joke, eh?'"
Cowper said no charges will be laid, but he warned Internet scams can have serious consequences.