A U.S. Supreme court decision striking down a law limiting Internet content makes way for a Canadian compromise that would see service providers control themselves.
Yesterday's ruling comes just one week before the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, backed by Industry Canada, is to present a self-regulation proposal at a conference of 27 countries in Paris.
"Hurrah, hurrah, they struck the law down", said Margo Langford, the association board member who will make the presentation at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development next week.
"This (law) was a very heavy hammer and (came) too soon before people understood what the implications would be. It would have been devastating for the technology."
The Internet association, known as CAIP, is proposing a system where Internet providers around the world agree to follow a code of conduct, similar to one already in use in Canada. They would be required, among other things, to shut down web sites containing child pornography or copyright infringements. They would be alerted to problem sites by a public complaints process.
"This is one of the few things that could work", said Ms. Langford, who is also a vice-president at Istar, an Ottawa Internet company that voluntarily cleaned up its web sites last summer. "The very existence of the Internet is founded on co-operation. If everybody cleaned up their own back yards, it would be manageable."
The U.S. law, passed by Congress last February, was widely criticized by free speech groups and internet companies on both sides of the border. There were concerns that the law would set a precedent for other countries -- including Canada -- to pass their own legislation, creating a legal patchwork impossible for Internet companies to follow.
The law "was like asking Internet companies to monitor all [paper] mail and telephone conversations", Ms. Langford said. "There are 5,000 news groups with countless postings and web sites which are in the millions. You can't know what's on every one."
American Internet providers applaud the Canadian initiative, which calls on government regulations only in areas where a market-based approach fails.
"In this case, Canada is way ahead of us", said Lori Fena, the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a North American civil liberties group.
And according to one Internet lawyer, the U.S. court decision may settle a brewing debate in Canada -- what role should the CRTC play in controlling Internet content?
The ruling clearly distinguishes the Internet from electronic communication like television and radio.
Toronto lawyer Mark Hayes said that if the U.S. position follows through to Canada, the CRTC is not likely to have jurisdiction over Internet material.