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The Canadian Government appears to have joined the list of countries that have misunderstood the Internet and hurled out ill-fitting legislation to deal with the worst manifestations of the Net revolution.

It is planning to bring in new laws to "combat" child pornography. Joyfully billed as the "world's toughest legislation" in this area, the new bill will make it a crime to produce, transmit and even access indecent pictures of children. The law will also apply if the offences are committed outside of Canada. The government says the new law will help it keep pace with new technology.

Finer detail: people found guilty of emailing child porn, "providing" child porn URLs or exporting it out of Canada will face up to 10 years in jail. "Accessing" child porn is punishable by up to five years. The bill also hopes to cut down on chatroom pedos that "lure" kids to meetings.

To its credit, one official explained that the law will only be applied to those that "knowingly cause child pornography to be viewed

From the details we do have and from previous experience of governments' reaction to Internet evils, we aren't holding out much hope that this is anything but a square peg for a round hole. It will pass, of course, because child pornography is an untouchable subject. Even make mention of anything not immediately anti-porn and you will be branded a pervert. That doesn't mean that this legislation isn't flawed and likely to create more problems that it solves, however.

What does "access" mean, for example? What can be taken to be indecent chatroom talk? Some companies "provide" hundreds of URLs every day - should they be responsible for their subsequent content? (Should a phone-maker be responsible for dirty phone calls?) And since the Internet is so global and easily accessed, is there not always an inherent risk that the wrong person is blamed?

More importantly - what is deemed "indecent" regarding photos of kids? There's a big argument currently going on in the UK regarding some pictures at the Saatchi Gallery. They depict naked kids and the police has asked them to be removed before the exhibition opens. The Gallery has refused - and it has found backing by quite a few important and influential people who despair at society's sexual neurosis and paranoia regarding children. They've got a point.

Now don't get us wrong - real child pornography is repulsive and deserves to be punished heavily by society. There is also no doubt the Internet has allowed it to proliferate. But governments are panicking that the Net is leaving them behind (which it is) and want to do something about it. And this has led to law after misplaced law that fails to understand how the Net works and is simply creating future discord.

Just look at the UK's RIP law or Terrorist Act or Australia's nanny legislation which thinks everything on the Net ought to be viewable by kids.

If you disagree with all of this logic though and simply want to build yourself into a towering, frothing frenzy, you may enjoy Tonight with Trevor McDonald on tonight, ITV, 10.20pm GMT. Carol "Internet expert" Vorderman will be being appalled at what occurs in chatrooms: "I posed as a 12-year-old looking for friends on the Internet. What I found will haunt me forever." You know the sort of thing. ®

Related Stories

Govt whips up chatroom pedo hysteria (the UK's forthcoming stupid legislation)
Australia goes stark raving mad over Net censorship
Australia outlaws e-mail forwarding
Hackers are terrorists, says UK law

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