It's easy to skirt the law - Hard to keep up with technology
Date: February 02, 2004
Laws regulating the Internet are eons behind the technology's abusers, says Canada's only prosecutor dedicated exclusively to web crime. "As the technology evolves, as the criminals commit offences, do bad things, that's when we find out there's no offence for it," said Steve Bilodeau, an Edmonton lawyer.
Bilodeau, who was in Winnipeg last week to meet with the city's sex crimes unit, said Canadian prosecutors have long been weak against the tide of Internet sexual offences, such as kiddie porn, luring, up-skirt cameras and obscenity.
Never mind the sites peddling AK-47s, offering instructions on how to generate false credit cards or recipes detailing how to cook up crack cocaine.
"The Internet is not a very clean place," he said. "It's impossible for one law enforcement agency to clean it up."
Bilodeau, whose training includes the FBI Academy in Virginia and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, said prosecutors are fighting a relentless battle against Internet sex crime with only outdated laws as weapons.
Investigations could take years, he said. And unless offences were committed in Canada, police have no jurisdiction without the co-operation of international agencies.
"It's such a crime without borders. It's forcing us to change the way we're investigating and prosecuting these (crimes)," he said.
International agencies have co-operated to fight illegal pornography, he said.
Take Project Snowball, an international police effort to crack down on child porn on the Internet. One of the men arrested in Winnipeg in that sting was Bryan William Larsen, who amassed one of the largest collections of child pornography in Canada.
But that barely affected the industry, Bilodeau said.
File-sharing sites, such as Kazaa and Morpheus, are used to share porn.
News groups make it difficult to track the origin of the illegal site, Bilodeau said. Once child or other illegal porn ends up on a news group, it can't be traced or removed.
Sending pornography in unsolicited e-mail -- also called spam -- is not illegal, Bilodeau said.
But there has been some headway.
Canadian Internet-luring legislation was unveiled July 2002. The law makes it illegal to use a computer to lure a minor into any of a number of sexually related offences. Winnipeg police were first in the country to lay luring charges in September 2002.
And though voyeuristic sites devoted to filming up women's skirts abound, they could be harder to find as early as this summer, Bilodeau said.
Prosecutors had been helpless against cyber-voyeurs, capable only of charging offenders with mischief, Bilodeau said.
But Bill C-20, an amendment to the Criminal Code protecting children and vulnerable persons, is on its way into law, he said.
Among the changes, that law would make it a crime to secretly film the exposed body parts or sexual activity of someone who has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
That may feel like too little too late for the victims of a 33-year-old Winnipeg man, charged this month after videotaping up the skirts of unsuspecting females at two popular city malls with a camera concealed in his knapsack.
Despite the progress, some Internet criminals will elude the grasp of officials eternally, Bilodeau conceded.
Finding the creators of illegal sites -- depicting sex with violence or degrading images -- is an insurmountable problem, he said.
Even if the sites were developed in Canada, law enforcement officials aren't likely to make catching the creator a priority, Bilodeau said.
"There are limited resources for law enforcement officials to chase these things down," he said.
It's hard to bring those cases to court, he said. And balancing freedom of expression is a hitch, he added.
"We want people to be free to do things," he said. "The focus is really on child pornography. We only have so many resources, so I don't think anybody would disagree that we have to make our children our first priority because they can't protect themselves."
As lawmakers struggle to keep up with lawbreakers, Bilodeau said he is confidant the good guys will win -- eventually.
"The cyber-world is not a free-for-all. Prosecutors and investigators are looking at these crimes. People shouldn't think they're untouchable."
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