A child-safety advocate wants the federal government to introduce tougher rules requiring internet service providers to release more information about customers who access child pornography.

Rosalind Prober, president of the Winnipeg-based Beyond Borders, also wants ISPs to be required to retain data on their customers.

Prober said an RCMP media conference on Tuesday about the arrest of nine Canadians who police allege accessed child pornography through the internet highlighted some key problems:

  • While many of the bigger ISPs voluntarily block feeds from 800 known child-pornography websites, some smaller companies do not, and they are not required to.
  • ISPs are not required to retain customer data, frustrating police investigations into suspected child-pornography users.
  • Unlike the U.S., Canada does not require mandatory reporting by ISPs of apparent child pornography.

"We're taking baby steps at the moment," Prober said.

Tom Copeland, head of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, admitted that there are some "bad apples," but said most ISPs are working to balance co-operating with police and respecting privacy laws.

"We're trying to put pressure on those dragging their heels … to make the flow of information quicker," he said.

Prober said some ISPs don't want to release customer data out of fear that the customers may sue them, but "that's a fantasy."

It's much more likely that abused children will link up on the internet and sue those who facilitated their abuse, including ISPs, she said.

Lack of data hurt dozens of possible cases

In announcing the arrest of nine Canadians as part of an international probe called Operation Koala, RCMP officers said the trail has gone cold on dozens of Canadians suspected of accessing child pornography because internet records are no longer available or the ISPs refused to release them.

"They're not comfortable with the release of that information for privacy or other reasons, and sometimes we just don't get a response from them," said Supt. Earla-Kim McColl, head of the National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre.

"Data storage is integral" to prosecuting internet child-porn cases, Prober said.

In November 2006, eight of Canada's largest ISPs, representing about 80 per cent of Canadian internet users, agreed to block foreign websites that feature child porn using a filter called Cleanfeed.

People who are "bound and determined" to view child porn will find a way to do it, but the filters will stop some viewers, a spokesman for Telus Corp., one of the eight, said at the time.

Prober admitted that despite the mandatory reporting requirements in the U.S., monitoring organizations have concluded that there are compliance problems.