The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Decima Reports.In a lengthy interview late last month with Canadian NEW MEDIA, telecom and broadcasting consultant Mark Goldberg argued that the precedent set by the decision to put Al Jazeera on the list of authorized services in Canada could serve as the basis for making ISPs liable for the transmission of hate and illegal porn. He reasons that the CRTC has now explicitly made cable carriers liable for the content traveling over their pipes, and that the situation with ISPs and Internet content is analogous.  If cablecos can be held responsible for ensuring that illegal hate material doesn’t reach the Canadian public, he argues, then ISPs can be made to guarantee the same. Without a test case, we’ll never know if his thesis is right, but his argument is compelling, and deserves consideration by the largest service providers. Goldberg’s arguments are attractive, however, precisely because they lead to self-regulation, and not to changes in policy. For that reason, we hope the ISPs create precisely the type of database Goldberg argues for. Goldberg’s assertions aside, the issue is not a simple one; censorship never is. An explicit recognition by way of legislative change that ISPs are responsible for stopping hate crimes and kiddie porn would be an inappropriate step to take. Putting ISPs officially in the position of being judge and jury offends notions of due process and the fact remains that there is too overwhelming a volume of information on the Internet for private enterprise to police alone. Yet, there is a compelling public interest in enlisting ISPs as partners in solving some of the Internet age’s most disturbing problems. Child pornography and hate speech online are not just a nuisance. They are the subject of censorship and hate laws supported by a majority of Canadians because of the irreparable harm they do. When ISPs are made aware of the existence of such material, they should take it upon themselves as an obligation to prevent Canadians from accessing it. The issue of free speech, in the case in question here, has already been argued. Canadians have chosen to suppress certain kinds of speech, and most would take it as an individual stand not to participate in its dissemination. If ISPs choose to block access to sites that they have been made aware of as containing hate or child pornography, that will be a business decision. As Goldberg argues, it should not be difficult for legal teams - especially cooperative groups with representation from each of the major stakeholders - to make a risk analysis determination that the content is illegal or not, and choose to block it or not. This is not censorship. ISPs cannot be compelled to provide access to anything but what they have advertised to consumers as being the service they provide. The government does not need to be involved. Of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that ISPs can be held liable, which is where the courts come in. If ISPs choose not to subscribe to Goldberg’s and others’ thesis, they will undoubtedly face a test case in the future, and there is no certainty that they would win. Goldberg hints that a movement is afoot to begin pressuring ISPs into adopting the kind of self-regulation he argues for, and it is only a matter of time before a high-profile case results in one or more ISPs being brought to trial. ISPs such as Sympatico, Rogers, Shaw, Telus and others are taking a big risk by continuing to allow Canadians to access materials that to a reasonable Canadian would be clearly illegal, especially if they have been alerted to their existence. The smart money would be on adopting the kind of self-regulation Goldberg is suggesting before the courts determine the matter for them.