Computer Crime Research Center


Child porn bill worthy of support

Date: April 08, 2008

At first blush, civil libertarians might blanch at a private member's bill that if enacted into law would require Ontarians to report images of child abuse or online child exploitation if they come across them, in a bid to help police in their investigation of child pornography.

But this is a logical extension of existing legislation that requires citizens, particularly those in positions of trust such as teachers and medical personnel, to report cases of child abuse if they find evidence of it.

And while the law would theoretically apply to all citizens who come across computer or non-computer images of child pornography -- with stiff sanctions for failure to report -- in practicality it would apply primarily to professionals in the computer field. These could include computer-repairers, Internet technology staff and Internet service providers.

Even without legislation, we've seen some interesting instances of compliance and "whistle-blowing" locally. At a recent court hearing, the judge heard an Internet provider had volunteered the address of a client to police investigating a child pornography case. In early 2005, a group of University of Guelph students weighed the issues of loyalty and friendship and did the right thing by contacting the police after finding child porn images on the computer of a dorm mate. And in 2003, a U of G professor was arrested after a university technician who was repairing the professor's office computer found child pornography and reported it to the proper university authorities.

The majority of private members' bills never become law, but this particular one from Laurel Broten, the Liberal MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, has made it to the second reading with strong support of her own party and from the opposition benches, although some -- notably Niagara Centre NDP MPP Peter Kormos -- have questioned its effectiveness.

If this bill does become law, we'll be watching to see how effectively people comply and how effectively it's enforced.

Will computer technicians or repairers who have been inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, on the off chance that child porn images had been sent to a computer without the owner's knowledge, now automatically report their find? And will police units, already overburdened with investigating a massive number of cases, be given the necessary resources to follow up on what should certainly be an increased level of reporting?

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