In a joint initiative with Microsoft Canada Co., the University of Toronto’s Centre for Innovation Law and Policy (CILP) Monday announced its first major policy initiative

since its foundation to strengthen Canada’s child sexual exploitation laws.

As part of the Safe Computing program, Microsoft Canada has donated $100,000 to help the CILP research legal and policy issues surrounding online safety for children and work with Ontario’s Attorney General office to develop new policies. Monday’s announcement follows last month’s launch of an online porn tip line called by a number of vendors and industry partners.

The data will be presented at an international academic symposium in May at U of T’s law school. CILP plans to submit recommendations from the conference by June with the hope of influencing legislative changes to Canada’s exploitation laws.

The issue of online child sexual exploitation raises technological and jurisdictional complications, said CILP executive director Richard Owens.

“It is a problem of pressing urgency and public interest,” Owens said Monday at a press conference held at U of T’s Faculty of Law. “It is a timely issue that is now getting attention from the government and law enforcement agencies.”

The Ontario government recently announced a province-wide plan to protect children from Internet predators and pornography at the annual federal-provincial-territorial justice ministers’ conference. The plan includes a new software package for schools called Cybercops to educate Grade 7 and 8 students on the risks of using the Internet.

Michael Eisen, Microsoft Canada’s vice-president of law and corporate affairs, described child exploitation as the “dark side” of the Internet that people didn’t think of when producing this technology.

“Child exploitation is a pressing social policy issue,” said Eisen. “Microsoft is well positioned to address the online dimension of that issue.”

For example, Microsoft Canada last year partnered with Bell Canada and Media Awareness Network as part of a public awareness campaign called Be Web Aware to help parents protect their children against potential Internet risks.

More than 20,000 images of child sexual abuse are posted on the Internet each week, according to Toronto lawyer and expert David Butt. Butt, who has 13 years of experience as a Crown prosecutor specializing in child pornography and the Internet, said, “We’re losing the battle big time.”

“Law enforcement is completely unequipped to deal with the problem,” said Butt, who is also a spokesperson for Beyond Borders Inc., a volunteer organization devoted to protecting children from abuse and exploitation. “We need partnership with the industry to best address the problem.”

Founded at the U of T Faculty of Law five years ago, CILP is a multi-faceted academic centre. It focuses on the study of innovation law and policy, which covers the law, institutions and policies that affect or are affected by technological development. Since its inception, CILP has focused on a variety of online issues including privacy, phishing and now Internet luring.

CILP has enlisted five U of T law students to help with the program. Last fall the students looked at international sentencing guidelines that could help prosecutors argue for longer sentences when someone has been convicted of possessing or distributing images of child sexual abuse, said CILP fellow Andrea Slane.

Students examined how the U.K. uses points systems as a guideline to measure the severity of the crime.

“A picture showing explicit sex actively involving a pre-pubescent child versus one depicting a child in a sexually suggestive pose would count for more points,” Slane said.

Students are currently conducting a survey to find out what Internet service providers are already doing voluntarily to combat the problem.

While Eisen said child exploitation and Internet luring will never go away completely, Microsoft is taking steps to protect users.

“We’re making an effort to ensure our products are safer and better,” said Eisen. “We’re hoping to foster the development of a legislative framework to deal with the problem.”

Microsoft is adding more functionality to its MSN product offering, which will allow parents to better-protect their children on the Internet, he added.


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