Transatlantic clampdown to hit extreme Web sites

UK and US politicians are taking action against violent online pornographic material

Britain and America have agreed to launch a joint crackdown on Web sites devoted to extreme forms of pornography.

The two countries will create a new group devoted to closing down such sites, after concerns that they are responsible for the spirit of lawlessness on the Internet.

Home secretary David Blunkett and deputy attorney general Jim Comey agreed to take the step during a meeting in the US last weekend.

According to the Home Office, sites such as those devoted to necrophilia are rare but do warrant action. "We agreed that a specific group of officials would meet jointly to work out what the next stage would be. We agreed that we would put our heads together to get some action on the issue," Blunkett's official spokesman told journalists on Tuesday. "The deputy attorney general said it was something they had been increasingly concerned about."

Last month, it was reported that a man convicted of murdering special needs teacher Jane Longhurst by strangulation had been a regular visitor to pornographic Web sites that included images of necrophilia. Miss Longhurst's family are demanding a clampdown on such sites.

Experts have warned that this legal position can be difficult, especially if sites are hosted overseas, but the British government is understood to be determined to take action. Internet service providers are likely to come under strong pressure to take such material offline.

The head of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit said last month that sites devoted to necrophilia and cannibalism are corrupting vulnerable people and should be closed. "For it [the Internet] to continue to grow as a mainstream medium for businesses, education and entertainment, it must design out the minority factors that inhabit cyberspace for their own perverse gratification," said detective chief superintendent Len Hynds.

However, some Web users were angered by Hynds' comments, taking them as an attack on the free nature of the Internet.

"On the pragmatic side, just how do they think that this can be enforced -- it wasn't christened the 'World Wide Web' without good reason. Like all 'vices' they will always find an outlet and a supplier for the depraved and corrupt in society," said one IT security manager.

"Let's stop wasting our time and effort on what we can't control and go for the organised crime syndicates that peddle this filth," he added.