Yesterday Canada's largest ISPs, including Bell, Bell Aliant, MTS Allstream, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Telus, and Videotron, announced the launch of Project Cleanfeed Canada in partnership with cybertip.ca. The project will allow the ISPs to block access to hundreds of child pornography sites. The list of sites will be generated by cybertip.ca.
Project Cleanfeed, which follows a UK model, is likely to generate several responses, notably concerns about censorship and fears that this could extend to other forms of content. While some skepticism is understandable, it should be noted that cybertip.ca will implement an appeal process for content providers who believe that their content is wrongly blocked (though the list of blocked sites will not be publicly disclosed since it would provide a child pornography directory).
More importantly, while some may suggest that this opens the door to other blocking – hate content, defamatory content or copyright infringement to name three – there is a crucial difference with child pornography that should prevent a similar approach. While those forms of content may raise legal issues, in the case of child pornography, it is illegal to even access the content. That is a crucial difference since under current law there are no valid free speech arguments for either disseminating child pornography nor for seeking the right to access it. Given that difference, the right of appeal, and the active involvement of cybertip.ca, the arrival of Project Cleanfeed in Canada looks like a good news story that merits close monitoring.