The Information Society


Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
13(2) 1997

Special Issue: Free Speech and Privacy in Canada's Information Society

This issue of The Information Society (TIS) 13(2), is devoted to "Free Speech and Privacy in Canada's Information Society." The vast majority of articles about free speech, privacy and censorship that cross my desk focus on the United States or Western Europe. As I write this letter, the United States Supreme Court is reviewing the constitutionality of the "Communications Decency Act" -- a national law that can be problematic to enforce with international communication systems. The issues of free speech, privacy and censorship are worked out within a different legal system in Canada -- and one that is not well understood in the United States and Western Europe. 

In 1991 and 1992, for example, Canadian citizens were shocked by the gruesome murders of two teenage girls; the subsequent trial of Karla Homolka and Paula Teale attracted Canadians' interest in a way that was similar to U.S. residents' fascination with the murder accusations against O.J. Simpson. But Homolka's 1993-1994 trial did not become a media circus like O.J. Simpson's trial, because a Canadian judge closed the courtroom to the public and prohibited reporters from publishing the evidence against her. 

However, the judge's action sparked a prolonged public debate in Canada about the openness of trials and the extent to which new communications technologies undermine national censorship efforts. Residents of Southern Ontario (which includes Toronto) who had television antennas were able to pick up television broadcasts about the trial from nearby Buffalo New York (although Canadian authorities blacked out cable broadcasts about the trial). Canadian Customs also tried to seize newspapers that reported about the trial at border checkpoints. 

Despite seizing newspapers and intercepting television signals, the Canadian government could not totally block Canadians' access to news about the trial. The U.S.-based Washington Post published a lengthy story on the Teale-Homolka case that was available in Canada through computerized information services - such as CompuServe. Such news stories were subsequently reposted on the Internet. Canadians shared photocopies of these stories, and government officials had embarrassingly little control over the effective spread of news about the trial. Issues such as the flow of information across national borders complicates efforts at national censorship. 

This TIS issue includes five articles that examine matters such as these in a Canadian context. They were originally given at a conference entitled "Free Speech and Privacy in the Information Age" that was held at the University of Waterloo, in November 1994. TIS Associate Editor Mark Poster, conference organizer Professor Jeffrey Shallit and I selected the five best of the conference papers for possible publication in TIS . These five papers were reviewed and revised for TIS. The revised versions appear here, along with an essay by Jeffrey Shallit and Harriet Lyons, that places each of them in context. 

One noteworthy paper" Content Analysis of Pornographic Images Available on the Internet" by Michael D. Mehta and Dwaine Plaza, is a systematic study of Usenet postings. Mehta and Plaza expected most pornographic images to be posted by individuals (amateurs); they were surprised to find that commercial services were the most frequent posters of pornographic images, and they used free pornographic pictures to advertise their fee-based services. A second paper of special note is by John Sopinka, a member of the Canadian Supreme Court, in which he lucidly explains the most relevant section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in light of advances in electronic media. 

The issue ends with Robert Sandusky's review of Hirschheim, Klein, and Lyytinen's Information Systems Development and Data Modeling: Conceptual and Philosophical Foundations. 

TIS continues to evolve in content and scope with an active editorial board. The book review editors, Anna Martinson and Dorothy Day, have commissioned a lively set of reviews that will appear in the next few issues. I also welcome four new members to TIS' editorial board: 

Dr. Chrisanthi Avgerou (Information Systems, London School of Economics), 

Dr. Elizabeth Davenport (Communication and Information Studies, Queen Margaret College-Edinburgh); 

Professor Rohan Samarajiva (Communications, Ohio State University); 

Professor George Turbow (John Marshall Law School). 

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