The Hamilton Spectator
Thursday, January 15, 1998
page N3
(Opinion)

Keeping dark side of the Net at bay

by Marg Langton

A new police force on the information highway is putting up roadblocks to offensive locations. The virtual officers will do everything in their power to keep pornography, hate material, and such harmful information as how-tos for suicide and bomb-building out of your home computer.

The Internet service, called CleanNet, is based in Guelph, with a regional franchise and three affiliates covering Burlington and Waterdown. It has been blocking unsavoury material on 132,000 sites since November. But representatives acknowledge the never-ending aspect of the task.

Audrey Scott, who has an affiliate franchise with her husband, Murray, says it's impossible to scrub cyberspace immaculate.

"Even as we speak, new (undesirable) sites are going up. We're not completely clean, but we're the best there is."

Scott's claim to supremacy rests on her conviction that no one can crack CleanNet from home. After hackers tried unsuccessfully to break into the system at its Guelph souce, tighter precautions went into effect.

She says CleanNet's method of blocking by site name rather than by topic makes it superior to other services with a similar mission.

Blocking by topic can make it impossible to research breast cancer, for example, if a catalogue of erogenous zones is on the forbidden list.

Customers buying CleanNet - at monthly rates ranging from $19.95 for 75 hours to $29.95 for unlimited use - agree to join a technological version of Neighbourhood Watch. If they discover sites which they believe the service should be obstructing, they e-mail the offending address to headquarters.

The Scotts - whose main business is a truck driver ministry called Transport for Christ - say they want to reach families with young children and teenagers.

Shocked

The Burlington couple see CleanNet as a solution for families who want to surf the net but have resisted out of fear of its dark side. They find businesses are also enthusiastic buyers as employers attempt to keep employees' minds on the job.

Brad Veenliet, who owns the regional franchise with his father Casey has seen enough on the net's dark side to be shocked by the no-rules climate.

"Children can wander into these sites. They can't get pornography in a store and they shouldn't be able to get it at home", said Veenliet.

A group of Burlington citizens dedicated to keep pornography out of minors' hands disbanded in September.

The Umbrella Coalition Addressing Pornography succeeded in changing bylaws which now restrict store accessibility of adult magazines and videos.

Sandi Kennedy, UCAP chairwoman, says children aged 10 and up know how to access some "pretty horrific" sites.

She points to studies from Queen's University and the University of Utah as just part of a large body of research linking pornography to violence.

While Kennedy considers CleanNet a good tool for users not knowledgeable enough to put their own filtering system in place, she has one objection: with CleanNet, someone else is deciding what you should or should not see.

Kennedy stresses the huge responsibility parents must assume with Internet access in the home. She warns that computers should never be located in a child's bedroom where the youngster can surf unsupervised sites including such data as necrophilia and bestiality.

Tessa House, another former UCAP member calls that kind of information garbage for the mind. She is convinced children need protection from absorbing its toxic messages.

House says anyone who calls CleanNet censorship is holding freedom of speech up "like the holy grail".

Women's and children's safety in the home and the street has to come first."

Franchisees selling CleanNet also offer a net service without the blocking feature. The Rocket is available for the same price range. Both services originate with International Internet Alliance in Guelph.

Audrey and Murray Scott can be reached at (905) 681-6513


Copyright © 1998 by The Hamilton Spectator. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.