National and international controls are needed to prevent the Internet from becoming a haven for child pornographers, drug traffickers, merchants of hate, and terrorists, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy warns.
``Sadly, we are already running up against the dark side of the information revolution'', Axworthy said yesterday in a speech to the Conference on Knowledge for Development in the Information Age, which is taking place in Toronto this week.
The world has to counter the use of information and communications technologies for ``exploitation, destruction, and criminality'', Axworthy said.
``It is urgent that we work together to establish international rule of law in cyberspace and on the airwaves - a rule of law aimed not only at preventing negative uses of these technologies, but also at encouraging positive ones.''
The conference, sponsored by the World Bank and the Canadian government, has drawn about 1,500 experts on the Internet and other advances in information and communications technologies from around the world. They are discussing how this technology can be used for economic and social development in the world's developing countries.
``It must be a matter of public policy to determine how these technologies will be used'', Axworthy said. ``I do not accept the laissez-faire attitude of those who say we cannot counter such abuses.''
He said the world can see the ``dark side'' of the information age ``in the international child pornography rings on the Internet; in hate propaganda that fuels cycles of ethnic violence; and when terrorist organizations and drug traffickers use sophisticated communications technology to launder money and plan their crimes.''
But while Axworthy talked of the need ``to put in place the necessary safeguards to counter misuse'', he also acknowledged that finding solutions, or even getting agreement on the need to act, will not be easy.
``I am under no illusions about the difficulty of this task, in conceptual, legal and practical terms. But it is a responsibility we cannot shirk.''
Canada doesn't have a law banning pornography from the Internet, but a federal government report says existing laws on child pornography, obscenity and hate literature can be applied to cyberspace.
In a speech last November, Mr. Justice John Sopinka of the Supreme Court of Canada said that lawmakers will be only partially successful in eliminating abuses on the Internet.
``It is the price we pay for the right to enjoy freedom of speech and the price we pay for the many benefits that we derive and will continue to derive from this powerful new medium.''
Within the Internet community there is a strong libertarian movement that opposes any kind of government intervention, even though the Internet was built by government. The popular Wired magazine has become a platform for those opposing any regulation or censorship on the Internet.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard a challenge to a Clinton administration law that would prevent the Internet from becoming an ``adult bookstore'' for children.