The London Free Press
Monday, May 26, 1997
page A5

Legal interpretations of porn on Internet debated

A computer science professor discounts OPP guidelines

HAMILTON (CP) -- Possession of Internet pornography may seem a clearcut issue, but advances in computer technology make it more complicated.

Officers with the Ontario Provincial Police's anti-porn unit say possession occurs when you save an image on the computer's hard drive or a diskette. Computer experts question the simplicity of that answer.

Most people have no idea what the software on their computers can do, says Jeffrey Shallit, a computer science professor at the University of Waterloo.

"Whatever you see on the screen is in memory. Every pixel of the screen is just a portion of the memory, essentially", Shallit says. "The question is when do you physically possess it? And I don't think that's a question which has been answered in any definitive way by any court anywhere."


David Jones, an assistant professor in McMaster University's school of Science, Technology, and Public Policy, says anyone who takes a peek to satisfy their curiosity may find their computer's software has made a copy of the illegal picture and stored it indefinitely on the hard drive of the computer.

Interest in Internet porn was fuelled by the arrest of a Hamilton-area man, his wife, and a teenager in connection with pornographic images allegedly downloaded from the Internet and saved as files.

Assistant Crown attorney Denis Allan is prosecuting a case in which a Hamilton man was charged with possessing child pornography after taking his computer into a shop to be repaired. The technician found the images on the hard drive and called Hamilton-Wentworth police. A preliminary hearing is set for June 6 in Ontario Court.

Allan doesn't believe the courts have addressed the issue of whether a person is guilty of possessing child pornography if the images were downloaded by their software and stored without their knowledge.

There is no specific law in Canada banning porn form the Internet, but a report prepared for the federal government says laws on child pornography, obscenity, and hate literature can be applied to cyberspace.

About half of one per of the Internet's total content is pornography, legal and illicit.

"The risk I see is that parents may get the false impression that the Internet is a seething cauldron of pornography -- it isn't", Jones says. "I get concerned when I hear reasonable, intelligent parents say, 'Oh, we don't have a modem on our personal computer because I won't let my child got on the Internet.' I think that's unfortunate."

Copyright © 1997 by All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.