Don’t be fooled. The Online Safety Bill poses a grave threat to our tradition of free speech

Jun 16, 2022 by

by Toby Young, Conservative Home:

In an article published last week, Chris Philp says the House of Commons committee that is scrutinising the Online Safety Bill has heard evidence from a ‘wide range of people… welcoming this pioneering internet safety law’.

Had the committee invited the Free Speech Union to give evidence – or, indeed, Index on Censorship, Big Brother Watch, or any other pro-free speech organisations – the response would have been less enthusiastic.

I take issue with the minister’s claim that the Bill will ‘enhance’ freedom of speech.

[…]  This goes to the heart of what’s wrong with this Bill. Not only is the concept of ‘legal but harmful’ content a weaselly way of trying to restrict free speech – of trying to square a circle that cannot be squared – but it is a breach of the fundamental principle of English Common Law that unless something is explicitly prohibited it is permitted.

It introduces a new grey area in which certain speech is deemed by the Government to be harmful and social media companies are encouraged to remove it, but it is not explicitly forbidden.

This sets a dangerous precedent – will the concept of ‘legal but harmful’ be extended to what we’re allowed to say in print? – and is bound to have a chilling effect on free speech.

To make matters worse, there is no concrete, non-circular definition of content that is ‘legal but harmful’ to adults in the Bill. Rather, this will be included in supplementary legislation – a statutory instrument to be brought forward by the Culture Secretary.

We do not yet know what content will be included in this Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which makes informed discussion of the Bill difficult, but in the DCMS press release about the latest version of the Bill (which uses the phrase ‘legal but harmful’ eight times) ‘harassment’ is given as an example.

That set alarm bells ringing. The Free Speech Union has just successfully concluded a protracted dispute with Essex University over its anti-discrimination and harassment policies which were invoked to no-platform two feminist law professors three years ago.

Read here

See also
Lord Frost: ‘PM must prioritise an overhaul of the Online Safety Bill’, from Christian Institute

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