Obstacles stand in way
of kiddie porn clampdown
The press seemed to relish the irony, making a point of mentioning Michael Briere's chosen profession at almost every opportunity: here was a software programmer, admitting to viewing child pornography on his computer just before he raped, murdered and dismembered 10-year-old Holly Jones.
The June 17 admission sparked a controversy, pitting police, parents and social conservatives against internet professionals, academics and civil libertarians and politicians against each other (see sidebar).
As for Briere, the link between child pornography and violence wasn't controversial in the least: "I would say that, yes, viewing the material does motivate you to do other things," he declared in his statement to the court. "The more I saw it, the more I longed for it in my heart. The more I wanted it. And that's the one time when I actually tried to do it."
As Det.-Sgt. Paul Gillespie of the Toronto police sex crimes unit told Canadian Press, "This is the fuel that drives their engine. This fuels their fantasy and unfortunately in some circumstances, like this latest case in Toronto, this drove this fellow into frenzy."
Gillespie blamed internet service providers (ISPs) - which include Bell Sympatico, Telus, Shaw and Rogers - for failing to voluntary police themselves. "There is absolutely no will in Canada in the service-provider industry and it's very, very frustrating to us," Gillespie was quoted as saying. "They don't think they're responsible for anything that occurs in their domain. Rather than helping us, they all stand behind their lawyers and privacy issues."
A councillor in Huron East, Ont. has recently proposed the first bylaw in Canada that would require ISPs to filter out child porn sites.
Yet according to the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, the Criminal Code itself prevents its members from doing much about customers who view child pornography. CAIP chairman Tom Copeland told the Edmonton Journal that if an ISP tried to weed out offending material site by site, image by image, "when they find (such material) they are then in breach of the accessing portion of Bill C15A."
Bill C15A makes it a crime to post, download or access child porn on the internet. Unfortunately, an amendment that would protect from prosecution those viewing child pornography "for the public good" got stuck in the Senate when Paul Martin called the election.
Legal or not, such proactive monitoring would be financially costly, were it possible to do so at all.
Rogers Cable Inc. spokesperson Taanta Gupta told the Toronto Star, "With 850,000 customers, I'm not sure how we would do that."
"It would be nice, but its not feasible," said Peter Bissonnette, president of Shaw Cable, given that there are billions of web pages, and that number grows exponentially every month. "It would be like saying we're going to stop people from using their telephone to call people who are doing bad things. You just can't do that."
Added Bell Sympatico spokesperson Mohammed Nakhooda: "It is the role of law enforcement to police or monitor content."
Even if ISPs did decide to block customer access to offensive sites, a porn user could then hook his computer up to something called a public proxy server. Tens of thousands of such servers exist, and ISPs would then have to block access to them as well - a logistical nightmare that would probably inconvenience countless legitimate businesses and innocent customers.
Ultimately, the real stumbling block may be more a matter of philosophy than technology.
"It all flows from the libertarian politics of many young high-tech pioneers," observed the Globe & Mail's Jack Kapica, "who naively reject government control over anything and also interpret the U.S. Constitution's free-speech amendment in its broadest sense."
Lowly computer programmers and high minded technological theorists alike tend to share a profoundly laisse faire world view. ("Information wants to be free," as their favourite slogan has it.) They are inclined to be almost temperamentally opposed to anything that smacks of Big Brother. And one fact is undeniable: The internet has grown to what it is, for good and for ill, precisely because it has been largely free and unregulated for decades.
A solution to the scourge of child pornography that sits as well with big business as it does with law enforcement officials and worried families may be a long time coming.
It may come too late. The sexual exploitation of children is slowly going mainstream. The venerable U.K. soap opera Coronation Street is currently running a story line about a married man's affair with a 16-year-old girl.
Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman's next film, Birth, reportedly features a scene in which Kidman shares a bath with a 10-year-old boy, and kisses him passionately. Anyone will be able to see it at their local Cineplex, no computer required.