UK police chief: Shut down 'abhorrent' Web sites

The Internet is no place for people looking for 'perverse gratification', claims the police officer leading the UK's fight against e-crime

The most senior officer from the UK's Hi-Tech Crime Unit has called for Web sites devoted to subjects such as cannibalism and necrophilia to be closed down, claiming they contribute to Internet criminality.

Detective chief superintendent Len Hynds, who is the head of Britain's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), said on Tuesday that the most vulnerable people in society need to be protected from corrupting influences.

"For the Internet to take the final step to adulthood it must first deal with those fringe elements that choose to promote abhorrent activities like cannibalism and necrophilia," Hynds told the e-Crime Congress 2004 in London.

"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," Hynds added.

According to Hynds, Web sites devoted to such extreme material are the online equivalent of graffiti and litter. He believes that taking a zero tolerance on this kind of content could make the Internet a more law-abiding place.

But a clampdown on sites devoted to subjects such as cannibalism could be all but impossible to enforce.

Earlier this month, it was reported that a man convicted of murdering a special needs teacher by strangulation has been a regular visitor to pornographic Web sites that included images of necrophilia.

The family of the victim has called on Internet service providers to close down or filter out such material, but the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has already warned that the legal position is complicated.

"At the IWF we do sometimes receive complaints about Web sites and material which contains adult content, but unless they are hosted in the UK and may potentially be 'borderline extreme' in terms of content, i.e. it is unclear as to whether the images may be illegal, it is not within our remit to further investigate these sites," according to a statement from the Foundation.

"Due to the increasing diversity in social attitudes, 'adult' content, the context in which it is viewed and possessed and any 'influence' it may have, is very difficult to govern," the statement continued.

Hynds' statement may also anger those who believe that one of the Web's great strengths is that it accommodates such a wide range of interests, free from censorship.