UK Plans To Do Away With Free Speech… In The Name Of Free Speech

from the as-expected... dept

Last fall, we noted that UK Home Secretary Theresa May had made it clear that if her Conservative Party were re-elected, one of the first orders of business would be a new “Extremist Disruption Orders” plan that would outlaw any speech or events that the government declared “extremist.” She wasn’t kidding around. Following last week’s election in the UK, David Cameron appears to be announcing just such a plan to basically wipe out anything resembling free expression in the UK (and, yes, I know, the UK doesn’t view free expression in the same way as the US does, and there’s nothing like the First Amendment there — you don’t have to point that out in the comments). The broad-reaching plans seem absolutely insane:

The orders, the product of an extremism task force set up by the prime minister, were proposed during the last parliament in March, but were largely vetoed by the Liberal Democrats on the grounds of free speech. They were subsequently revived in the Conservative manifesto.

The measures would give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the ?harmful activities? of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or creating a ?threat to the functioning of democracy?.

“A risk of harassment”? “Alarm or distress”? That could include just about anything. A “threat to the functioning of democracy”? Does that include public protests or arguing against the current leadership? The likelihood of abuse seems absolutely, astoundingly, massive.

They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print. The bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred.

Yes, that’s right. If you wanted to tweet something that creates “distress,” you’d have to first submit it to the police to get their okay.

Oh, and here’s the really insane part. David Cameron is claiming that he’s doing this in the name of free speech. No joke:

?For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It?s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that?s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.

?This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.

?Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

?We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society.?

Did you hear that? That’s the sound of actual free speech supporters having their collective jaws hit the floor. Here he is, saying that for too long we’ve been “tolerant” of free expression, and thus we have to ban it, in support of “free speech” and democracy. And he flat out admits that they no longer think “obeying the law” should keep you out of trouble. That’s some incredibly Orwellian bullshit right there.

As Glenn Greenwald rightly notes, once again it appears that the biggest threat to free speech is not from terrorism, but from those claiming to fight terrorism. He also points us to a video of Theresa May going on and on about how this is about “promoting British values” and stopping those who “look to divide our society.” So, they don’t want to “divide” society… and they’re going to do that by telling everyone they can only have views that the government finds acceptable.

In short, the current UK government is promoting an out and out war on free expression, by saying you can only have free expression if you spout government approved thoughts.

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Comments on “UK Plans To Do Away With Free Speech… In The Name Of Free Speech”

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111 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This is a bad thing?

Indeed. The next step is for the government to simply abandon the rule of law and simply rule by decree, “to maintain order” or some such.

I can’t help but go straight for the Godwin on this (and tie in the bulk records retention ridiculousness that’s been going on). Try these quotes on for size:

“It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.”

“The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re: This is a bad thing?

I’m too creeped out to comment any further than to say, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

I live here, damn it, and I don’t like the way things are going.

To all Tory voters: don’t get to thinking you’re on the right side of the police state. Anyone could fall foul of it at any time.

To all Labour supporters: your Glorious Leader Blair started this, so shut up!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The US Constitution is amazing

“I doubt the founding fathers envisioned the Constitution and Bill of Rights to be granting rights to things that are not human.”

I doubt the founding fathers envisioned the Constitution and Bill of Rights applying to the use of telephones. Isn’t it great how new discoveries can exist without having to write a new constitution?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The US Constitution is amazing

“I doubt the founding fathers envisioned the Constitution and Bill of Rights applying to the use of telephones.”

I disagree. I think that they envisioned the Constitution as applying to everything the government does. They did not envision the principles laid out as being tied to specific technologies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The US Constitution is amazing

On the contrary, the Constitution and Bill of Rights do not grant rights to anyone or grant them at all. Rights are inherent, and the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights serve to limit the governments ability to intrude on them. It’s part of why the Bill of Rights was added after the Constitution was ratified, the original arguments were that these natural rights existed regardless of the government. Others eventually won out, wisely noting it’s the tendency of governments to infringe on natural rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The US Constitution is amazing

I doubt the founding fathers envisioned the Constitution and Bill of Rights to be granting rights to things that are not human.

I suspect the founding fathers never envisioned that “things” would be charged with crimes, either. My stack of 99 $100 bills, confiscated by the DEA on suspicion of being in a drug transaction, or by the IRS on suspicion of being used in “structuring”, is hardly comforted by your statement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The US Constitution is amazing

Plantations were the fore-runners of modern corporations, wherein human beings were used as small cogs in a giant money-making machine. The slave-owners were making too much money to allow the out-lawing of slavery, and their money and power was needed to create a new nation. If they were told “no slavery in this new nation”, I suspect they’d have backed the British. Then we’d have become South Canada and would all have really good free medical care now.

RonF (profile) says:

Re: Re: The US Constitution is amazing

The Founders decided that two countries – one North, one South, one with slavery and one without – would likely not survive a British assault (e.g., the War of 1812). So rather then lose the South, they compromised. Slavery was permitted, but the number of representatives allocated on the basis of the slave population was reduced by 40% so as to ensure that the South did not have a irreducible majority in the House of Representatives and banned the importation of slaves after a fixed date.

Jefferson (a slave owner himself) among others predicted that it would lead to major conflict down the road. They were right. But at the cost of 600,000 lives slavery was ended and the nation was held together.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The US Constitution is amazing

In the US they’ve gotten around protections against ex post facto increases in penalties by determining that registration as a criminal is not in itself a punishment because it doesn’t directly cause any detriment, and that any other laws which are based on one’s registration status are mere administrative practices and not punishments either.

In the UK, the “solution” for ASBOs was that an ASBO wasn’t a punishment. I suspect the same argument will be used here. (Remember that the UK’s constitution does almost nothing to protect the people from Parliament, only Parliament from the Queen.)

Anonymous Coward says:

If you really believe in free speech…
Quit clicking “report” to hide comments when you just simply don’t like the ideas expressed.

Because censoring ideas is the essence of censorship. You kids don’t have any ground to stand on against government when you sneakily censor here and make up excuses.

Self-proving example! You kids don’t like this idea nor being called “kids” so you’ll censor this!

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: Re:

Oh hi blue…
We hit report when a comment is rude or trollish, not to censor its ideas. At any rate, that sort of ‘censorship’ is pretty ineffective, as one can easily unhide the comment. If it was truly censored, it would be disappeared forever (not that most of your comments don’t deserve such a fate), not merely collapsed.
Also, this comment is clearly a troll and calling us kids is rude, so I reported your comment. So there. You’re still free to express your opinions though, and still free to make an ass of yourself.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s not censorship because you can still click on the link to see the comment, as I’m sure this comment will soon demonstrate.

Techdirt, for better or for worse, is a very democratic environment. Sometimes I wish the staff here would actually start punishing trolls and keep the community clean via deleting comments, IP bans, and other such things, but on the other hand, the present system does seem to work because it provides commenters all the rope they want for hanging themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "keep the community clean" -- You're for purity, eh?

>> I wish the staff here would actually start punishing trolls and keep the community clean via deleting comments, IP bans, and other such things,

NEWS FOR THOSE TAKEN IN BY TECHDIRT: ALREADY DOES. this little censor HAS HIS WISH.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "keep the community clean" -- You're for purity, eh?

not to burst your bubble there but the US government recently admitted they faked the initial moon landings at the time. Since they were no where close to being ready for it and they wanted to beat the Russians for the obvious morale boost it provided during their cold war.

Eventually they did land on the Moon, but funny enough it was faked to delay the Russians and give them more time.

Kind of funny eh how sometimes the things previously claimed to be crackpot theories tend to become actual reality when enough secrets get leaked.

S. T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What branch of the United States government does Techdirt represent?

Trick question! It doesn’t represent any of them. This explains why Mr. Masnick or whoever monitors the comments around here can do whatever they feel necessary to retain a sense of decorum around here without running afoul of the law: no such action represents censorship.

If you comment gets hidden under a “reported” flag, that doesn’t make your comment go away permanently. (And if you whine about the single click it takes to make your comment visible, anyone who calls you “lazy” has a point.) The hiding of your comment won’t rescind your right to reprint that comment anywhere else on the Internet. And Techdirt has no legal obligation, in any jurisdiction, to keep your comment “unhidden”.

You have a right to your opinion, even if you didn’t do the work necessary to hold it, but everyone else has the right to ignore it. Someone who ignores you or hides your comments has not censored you; they’ve simply decided that your opinion has no merit. If you proclaim dissent and the ignoring of bad opinions/ideas as “censorship”, you insult those who have actually had their opinions/ideas censored—those who cannot speak but for the actions of a government (or even a violent mob) that would punish them for speaking.

You have a voice. Try using it for something worth a damn.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Censorship, as in the suppression of speech by the government with the weight of fines and prison time, is not comparable to having your inflammatory comment attacking the community flagged for being inflammitory and attacking the community. We still allow you to speak. We just aren’t listening to you.

I am unsure how you claim they ‘sneakily’ censor, as they announce the comment has been flagged, its quite clear that others have responded to the comment, and viola, I am responding to your flagged comment. Also, the flagging doesn’t work on Techdirt lite (the mobile version). So those readers get you in your full glory.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

He could make himself king (but only of the UK, not most of the Commonwealth Realms (probably: the legalities are complicated even if they all agree)) if he could command a majority when Elizabeth dies: Parliament chooses the next king (which is the basis for the restrictions on the monarch’s powers: they’ll only choose a king who will agree to not use most of his power).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Get What We Deserve

The conservatives have a mandate from fewer than a 27% of the voting population. Our voting system (First past the post) has let us down, in conjunction with the millions of scared and duped adult-children who voted conservative.

Doesn’t matter anyway, the system needs to be shaken up from time to time. Better now than later. Time to burn it all to the ground.

SJ39 says:

Re: British citizens get what they deserve.

Sadly only about 37% of those who voted actually voted form the Conservatives, the remaining 63% of us who bothered to get out and vote are left frustrated and incredulous that we have this nightmare in power. And don’t get me started on the approx 30% of the adult population who didn’t vote! That means that in reality only about 20% of the population eligible to vote actually wanted them in power…is our democracy through the first-past-the-post system a wonderous thing?

Feldie47 (profile) says:

Why the surprise?

Brought to you by the folks who jailed Gandhi because he was an extremist (he differed in opinions), who jailed and tortured peaceful dissidents throughout the ages and who still accept a poorly behaved monarchy as a rightful and proper adornment of their society? Wait until they use the latest face recognition software on the cameras ubiquitous in London to determine who on the street is and is not extreme. Off to the tower?

RichP (profile) says:

Policing by Consent

It’s a subtle distinction, but here in the UK the police act by the consent of the people; legally they have to act in a way that is approved of by the general population. In the US you have the police acting by decree; they can do what they damn well please providing it’s not explicitly banned and thus they get away with murder.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Policing by Consent

While, yes, that in theory is how the UK police force works, the article just in theory made it a crime to criticize the actions of the police. (I can see such criticism falling under “risk of public disorder”, “risk of harassment”, “risk of alarm”, “risk of distress” and “risk of creating a “threat to the functioning of democracy”, depending on how you want to look at it).

I mean, I can see the potential to make it hard to address police overreach when criticism is met with jail time because it risks raising an alarm. Don’t you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Policing by Consent

That’s just a recognition of the fact that the police can’t achieve anything in the face of united public opposition: if people resist arrest until beaten into insensibility, refuse to provide statements, don’t make complaints about crimes (to them, anyway), and so on, the police become ineffective.

RonF (profile) says:

Re: Policing by Consent

“In the US you have the police acting by decree; they can do what they damn well please providing it’s not explicitly banned and thus they get away with murder.”

I love it when non-US citizens or residents attempt to explain how America works to Americans – but highly resent it when Americans offer opinions about how their country works.

American police do not act by decree. What they can and cannot do is as constrained by the Constitution and by law as any other American. And while there have been a few cases that have been very highly publicized by a hostile media as reputedly being murder, subsequent court action based on evidence and testimony generally reveals that the police did not in fact murder.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you really believed in free speech then you wouldn't have censored this before!

QED.


Quit clicking “report” to hide comments when you just simply don’t like the ideas expressed.

Because censoring ideas is the essence of censorship. You kids don’t have any ground to stand on against government when you sneakily censor here and make up excuses.

Self-proving example! You kids don’t like this idea nor being called “kids” so you’ll censor this!


[ They like clicking “report” and I like what that shows about Techdirt, so it’s win-win.]

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If you really believed in free speech then you wouldn't have censored this before!

Censorship is when people prevent, or try to prevent you from speaking. Free speech does not mean that you can demand that people will listen to you. The report function here is people saying that they do not wish to listen to you. Stop confounding being prevented from speaking and being ignored, and demanding that people listen to you.

S. T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: If you really believed in free speech then you wouldn't have censored this before!

You proclaim Techdirt has censored you, yet you’ve made the same comment twice and still have the legal right to post that comment anywhere else on the Internet.

So…how has Techdirt suppressed your right to express yourself freely, again? Because I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word “censorship”. If anything, you seem to want the concept weakened so no one can ever disagree with you or delete/hide/ignore your comments without being called a “censor”.

If anything, your attempts to stifle discussion by labelling others as “censors” seems like more of a move towards censorship than Techdirt hiding your comments.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: If you really believed in free speech then you wouldn't have censored this before!

The funniest part of course is that more often than not, those that are crying the loudest about how TD is ‘censoring’ their posts are also among those that are fine with ‘shoot first, ask questions never’ anti-piracy efforts that lead to people having accounts deleted, sites seized, and similar things.

This in spite of the fact that a hidden comment can be read with a single click, but a seized site or blocked account is freakin’ gone. Apparently it’s only censorship when it happens to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

It worked for Hitler, Stalin and any other semi intelligent dictator in the past.

People do not learn from history. If you want to do something unpopular you phrase it in a way that suggests its the complete opposite of what you will do.

To do the old standby. Have fun telling your great grandparents and grandparents that fascism won in the end.

Anonymous Coward says:

and dont forget how that same government took away internet freedom, using the ages-old story of ‘protecting the children’ when the idea was to please Obama’s sponsors in Hollywood! the UK may well be going down a slope that is getting steeper by the minute, but the USA government is giving it a fucking good push to help it on it’s way! the internet website blocking is being done, more than for any other reason, because the USA doesn’t/wont do it! someone has to be stupid enough to take the lies and bullshit spouted by the entertainment industries and in doing so, the UK ‘cements the special relationship with the USA’! what a crock of crap!!

Rekrul says:

“A risk of harassment”? “Alarm or distress”? That could include just about anything. A “threat to the functioning of democracy”? Does that include public protests or arguing against the current leadership? The likelihood of abuse seems absolutely, astoundingly, massive.

It’s not “abuse” if that’s the (secret) intent of the law right from the start.

Anonymous Coward says:

And of course all CENSORED yet again!

Clearly you kids have no ability to see how you’re EXACTLY like Cameron, insisting that you’re doing it for the ultimate good!


If you really believed in free speech then you wouldn’t have censored this before!
QED.


Quit clicking “report” to hide comments when you just simply don’t like the ideas expressed.

Because censoring ideas is the essence of censorship. You kids don’t have any ground to stand on against government when you sneakily censor here and make up excuses.

Self-proving example! You kids don’t like this idea nor being called “kids” so you’ll censor this!

[ They like clicking “report” and I like what that shows about Techdirt, so it’s win-win.]


>>> When will money grubbing assholes realize that evidence is required in order to prove allegations?

Ah, but you try to pull the trick that copyright owners must prove a case beyond all reasonable doubt, when the value lost is only a few bucks. That’s obviously not cost-effective so the pirates are advantaged.

I don’t support Rightscorp as such, but to disparage ALL claims to intellectual property, go against all the law in the copyright area that are exactly the compromise that’s been worked out, to say pirates can take whatever they wish of other people’s work, when it’s YOU pirates who are outside of law, that’s just contemptible.

So I’ve become FOR stiff punishments. I just wish that your thefts didn’t cause ME trouble, but bad laws are caused by those who don’t keep their paws off other people’s stuff.


>>> What’s funny though is how a lot of trolls end up thinking they’re being punished by Mike when their comments are flagged by the community.

First, Masnick is a partisan who controls the forum. He has definitely blocked ME from home IPs. This is NOT an open “platform”, this is Masnick tiny kingdom.

Second, mis-using “report” to suppress ideas IS just plain censorship.

Third, labeling those disagree as “trolls” is just typical of what to expect here.

I was just now BLOCKED after two posts by “free forum” Techdirt. I have to use Tor to get in at all!

Anonymous Coward says:

And of course all CENSORED yet again!

Clearly you kids have no ability to see how you’re EXACTLY like Cameron, insisting that you’re doing it for the ultimate good!


If you really believed in free speech then you wouldn’t have censored this before!
QED.


Quit clicking “report” to hide comments when you just simply don’t like the ideas expressed.

Because censoring ideas is the essence of censorship. You kids don’t have any ground to stand on against government when you sneakily censor here and make up excuses.

Self-proving example! You kids don’t like this idea nor being called “kids” so you’ll censor this!

[ They like clicking “report” and I like what that shows about Techdirt, so it’s win-win.]


>>> When will money grubbing assholes realize that evidence is required in order to prove allegations?

Ah, but you try to pull the trick that copyright owners must prove a case beyond all reasonable doubt, when the value lost is only a few bucks. That’s obviously not cost-effective so the pirates are advantaged.

I don’t support Rightscorp as such, but to disparage ALL claims to intellectual property, go against all the law in the copyright area that are exactly the compromise that’s been worked out, to say pirates can take whatever they wish of other people’s work, when it’s YOU pirates who are outside of law, that’s just contemptible.

So I’ve become FOR stiff punishments. I just wish that your thefts didn’t cause ME trouble, but bad laws are caused by those who don’t keep their paws off other people’s stuff.


>>> What’s funny though is how a lot of trolls end up thinking they’re being punished by Mike when their comments are flagged by the community.

First, Masnick is a partisan who controls the forum. He has definitely blocked ME from home IPs. This is NOT an open “platform”, this is Masnick tiny kingdom.

Second, mis-using “report” to suppress ideas IS just plain censorship.

Third, labeling those disagree as “trolls” is just typical of what to expect here.

I was just now BLOCKED after two posts by “free forum” Techdirt. I have to use Tor to get in at all!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Claiming it multiple times doesn't make it true

Don’t want to keep being sent to time out, stop acting like a child. Spamming the exact same crap, over and over, yeah, you’re going to be reported for that, as anyone would.

Also, just a quick definition primer:

Message is gone, cannot be seen, because it flat out does not exist anymore = Censorship.

Having spam hidden behind a single mouse click because of ‘abusive, spam, trollish, or otherwise inappropriate’ post = Not censorship.

Really, do you also think spam filters are ‘censorship’, because they toss junk messages into the trash so people don’t have to deal with them? Also, for someone screeching about how much you’ve been ‘censored’, funny how people seem to be able to read your ranting just fine.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: Re: Claiming it multiple times doesn't make it true

It’s pretty obvious that he understands the concept but he’s gonna keep hollering about censorship anyway. I think we should stop feeding the troll now.
P.S. If you actually got IP banned or your posts deleted (not likely because nothing seems to shut you up and I’ve seen plenty of posts not deleted), you deserved it. You do nothing constructive for this community save fling vitriol and yell “CENSORSHIPS!1!!!one!” whenever you’re rightly reported. You’re not changing any of our minds, especially not like that. Just give up.

Anonymous Coward says:

The real problem

The real problem is that BOTH major parties were planning to do something like this – just from different directions:

Ed Miliband was committed to “outlawing Islamophobia”

Now I realise that you could construe his words as applying only to anti-muslim violence or discrimination but the boundary between discrimination and speech can be difficult to define.

So if you want free speech who do you vote for in the UK?

MirceaKitsune says:

The unthinkable

I knew that David Cameron was a weird person, and that the UK had issues with freedom of speech in the past… but this blows your mind beyond any expectation. This is some North Korea grade stuff… happening in the UK, part of the European Union (at least for now) and during year 2015!

What is going on with this planet, because I honestly cannot understand. Is there a plan to turn Britain into the new China? Does this disease risk spreading from the UK to the rest of Europe? Why did Britain vote for these extremists, and is there any hope for those who didn’t to save themselves from what this madman and his gang are doing?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The unthinkable

Why did Britain vote for these extremists, and is there any hope for those who didn’t to save themselves from what this madman and his gang are doing?

Partly because the Labour Party were incompetent for the last five years, allowing the Tories to get away with blaming them for the recession and accepting the “There is No Alternative” narrative in justification of Thatcherism, partly because they’re abandoning their old support base without securing a new one first, and partly because Ed MIlliband promised to institute press reforms based on the Leveson Report, which got the Tories lots of free support.

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