My day in the Parliamentary Press Gallery
Below is the story I filed at the end of the day, after attending a committee meeting on the problem of child pornography on the internet:
The Internet allows distributors of child pornography to avoid detection while spreading illegal images on computers throughout the world. The Canadian government has only recently begun to address the problem from within the country.
A new bill introduced by Minister of Justice Robert Nicholson would require Internet service providers, email servers, social networking sites and search engines to report incidents of child pornography on their websites. Under current law, Internet service providers are not obliged notify police if they believe their services are being used to transmit child pornography.
“The growth in child pornography sites in recent years is largely due to the proliferation of the Internet,” Nicholson said during a debate of the bill at second reading on Tuesday.
Bill C-22, the Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act, addresses the need for government to create laws regarding crimes made possible by evolving technology.
“People are becoming so sophisticated in the pursuit of exploiting children,” Nicholson said.
The production, distribution, sale or possession of child pornography was made illegal under the Criminal Code in 1993, but illegal images have remained widespread on the Internet since then. Images can be uploaded anonymously through websites with hidden Internet protocol addresses. Without cooperation from Internet service providers, police cannot locate the address or the person who uploaded the images.
MPs were supportive of the bill, but criticized Nicholson and his government for not addressing online distribution of child pornography until now.
“Better late than never,” Liberal MP Brian Murphy said during the debate.
Marc Lemay of the Bloc Québécois said there has been a need for this kind of legislation for at least ten years.
Murphy criticized the Conservative government for being so slow to act that provincial governments have “leap frogged” the federal government by creating their own bills to address online distribution of child pornography.
Nova Scotia already has a law requiring Internet service providers to report child pornography to police, and Alberta and Ontario are in the process of creating similar bills.
“Technology changes very quickly,” Nicholson said.
He has faced delays in introducing Bill C-22. In November 2009, Nicholson introduced an identical bill but was forced to abandon it when his own government prorogued Parliament one month later.
Some Internet service providers already cooperate with police to track down child pornography offenders, but many do not.
“It’s not good enough that somebody has a moral obligation,” Nicholson said of Internet service providers. “I believe there should be a legal duty.”
That legal duty would impose changes to the way Internet service providers interact with their subscribers.
“ISPs have huge stake in this,” Liberal MP Brian Murphy said. “If they’re not in this room listening to this, they should be.”
Normand Wong, counsel for the criminal law policy section of the Department of Justice, told MPs he consulted with most major Internet service providers in Canada when preparing the bill.