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Who decides what we can read?

commons daySpeaking at the Internet Service Providers Association, Security Minister James Brokenshire said that an announcement on blocking extremist websites is ‘forthcoming.’

This follows the Prime Minister telling Parliament on October 23 that: “We have had repeated meetings of the extremism task force — it met again yesterday — setting out a whole series of steps that we will take to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites.”

Such an announcement has not been preceded by a public consultation, or any engagement with civil liberties and freedom of speech organisations. The threat the freedom of speech is only too clear.

As we have previously warned around the shift of the child safety debate from illegal content to legal content, there is a danger that politicial figurues become embroiled in deciding what we can and cannot see online. The starting point should be if material meets a criminal threshold, can those involved be prosecuted. Blocking must never become an easier alternative to prosecution.

While putting in place legal powers to block illegal content is not new, the focus must be on due process and a clear legal framework. It must not be in the gift of civil servants or officials to decide if content is considered extremist and then legal powers being used to compel UK internet service providers to block such conent.

We oppose state regulation of the press and we oppose state regulation of the internet. Where laws have been broken, people should be prosecuted. If content is alleged to break the law then a court should decide if that is the case. More importantly, Parliament should establish a clear and unambiguous framework for the circumstances in which such powers can be used, opportunities for redress and putting in place robust legal safeguards.

Given that the police maintain a secretive ‘national extremist database‘ of protestors and activists many of whom have no national security relevance, it is not hard to see how these powers could quickly be used to block content that is far from criminal.

Any such framework must mean a court order being obtained for each specific URL – and blocks not being implemented where legal content would also be blocked as a result. This must not be a voluntary arrangement with ISPs.

Governments around the world will leap upon any perception that Britain is using terrorism legislation to stifle freedom of speech. Business will lose confidence in our digital economy if legitimate websites are blocked. Politicians and civil servants must never make the decisions about what is blocked.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Web blocking

8 Responses to Who decides what we can read?

  1. Coleman

    “These Jewish intellectuals like Alfred Kerr, they immediately understood that this was an attack on the whole [of] humanity, not only on themselves,” says German theatre critic Peter von Becker.
    “They were, in a way, followers of the great poet Heinrich Heine who said, ‘When there are books to be burned, human beings will be burned afterwards’, and of course Alfred Kerr’s books were burned in 1933 in the Opernplatz, which Goebbels directed.” From the BBC Judith Kerr Program Hitler the Tiger and Me
    Books no longer need to be burned they can be suppressed by other means but the threat against the whole of humanity is live and we have a duty to defend our freedom and not let those who would take it away from us get away with it with out protesting.

  2. Andrew Hilborne

    I couldn’t agree more. What can we do to stop this mistake from being made?

  3. philip croft

    As usual–the government, under the cover of appearing useful, by responding to a real issue that may have public support; use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.They intend to abuse this opportunity, by turning large sways of the general public into suspects! Once again, they betray their promisses to uphold our freedoms, by exchanging ‘New Labour’ restrictions for those of their own making. We must ALL be vigilant. Our gratitude to ‘Big Brother Watch’ should manifest itself by means of financial support.

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  5. Gareth Thomas

    Here we go again. The Govt not listening to experts who will tell them a block simply won’t work against those determined to find illegal information, but it has obvious potential to be abused by Govt when its done by some unaccountable committee (CHEOP) and the list is not scrutinised by Parliament.

    Its a terrible slippery slope down to state censorship to appease the Daily Mail and it must be resisted.

  6. Frank Fisher

    20 years now I’ve been banging on about internet censorship, and I still don’t see the mass media taking it seriously – and they never will. It is in the interests of the mainstream media to go along with this, and what this means for opposition voices is that we MUST NOT expect that kicking up a fuss or normal protests will stop this. Nor will legal challenges. What has to be done is that enough people simply republish and mirror the ‘blocked’ content. Make the blocks useless.

    And vote for parties which oppose internet censorship, like UKIP for one.

  7. Pingback: New Examples of Censorship in West Europe, Facebook, Google, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, and North America | Techrights

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