Online journalists have criticised the use of international filtering software that effectively blocks internet users from accessing lesbian and gay web sites.

The issue arose last week (4 July 2001) when Index On Censorship published a story on the easyGroup of companies, which owns the largest chain of internet cafes in the world.

It uses filtering software by Websense, which apparently blocks access to gay and lesbian sites, even though many of them do not contain any pornographic material.

Websense is now one of the world's largest producers of such software, and works in partnership with Microsoft and Cisco. It also has 30 of the UK's FTSE 100 and 244 of the US's Fortune 500 companies as customers.

Charlotte Cooper, news editor at - the UK's largest gay and lesbian portal - told dotJournalism: "I don't think it's a case of the easyGroup being actively homophobic, because I don't think it deliberately blacklisted the sites, but it does highlight a growing problem. We've heard of cases in the US where gay library users can't access important community information sites because of the Websense filtering system.

"It's a new technology issue, which is why nothing's really been done about it yet."

A spokesman for easyGroup confirmed that it had no wish to censor non-pornographic gay material, but that "sometimes the software gets it wrong".

However, Websense denied that its software is at fault. A spokeswoman said: "It's up to the employer to decide what kind of material they want to block. The software doesn't automatically block gay stuff."

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