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Government proposes ban on violent and abusive Internet pornography

Updated:
LONDON (AP) _ Ever since Jane Longhurst was killed two years ago by a man obsessed with violent Internet pornography, her family has campaigned for the British government to outlaw the viewing of extreme sexual material on the Web.

On Tuesday the government agreed, announcing plans _ the first, it said, by any Western country _ to ban the downloading and possession of violent sexual images.

Police and anti-porn campaigners welcomed the proposal but free-speech groups called it censorship, saying there was no proven link between violent imagery and violent behavior.

Home Office Minister Paul Goggins said the government felt a duty to prevent cases such as the murder of Longhurst, a 31-year-old teacher strangled by a friend who was obsessed with violent pornography he found on the Internet.

``This is material which is extremely offensive to the vast majority of people, and it should have no place in our society,'' Goggins said.

The government's proposals would make it an offense to possess ``extreme pornographic material which is graphic and sexually explicit and which contains actual scenes or realistic depictions of serious violence, bestiality or necrophilia.''

Viewing such material would constitute possession, although the government said it did not plan to prosecute people who accidentally stumbled across the images.

Such legislation would be a first for any Western nation, the Home Office said. Those convicted would face up to three years in prison.

The Obscene Publications Act already bans publication of images of sexual brutality on the Internet but is all but impossible to enforce unless the material is hosted in Britain.

The Internet Watch Foundation, an industry-funded watchdog that encourages Internet users to report illegal content, says almost none of the obscene material it found on the Net was hosted in Britain; the majority came from the United States.

That makes such matters very difficult to investigate, said Metropolitan Police Commander Dave Johnston, who welcomed the government's proposal.

Chris Evans of the pressure group Internet Freedom said Internet users ``should be able to make up their own minds about what they view.''

``The idea that you can prevent violent action by banning such images is nonsense,'' he said.

The government's proposal is a long way from becoming law. Interested parties have until Dec. 2 to comment on the plans, which would then have to be drafted into a bill and passed by Parliament before taking effect.
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