I’ve written an open letter to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak in today’s Sunday Express, urging whichever one of them becomes Prime Minister to do more to protect free speech. Here is an extract:
As we were reminded on Friday, free speech isn’t some airy fairy idea. For writers such as Salman Rushdie, it’s a matter of life and death.
To start with the most urgent issue, you need to have a major rethink of the Online Safety Bill.
This legislation was originally intended to make the internet safer for children – a laudable ambition – but it has now gone way beyond that and poses the greatest threat to free speech in a generation.
I welcome the fact that you have both said you’ll look again at clause 13 of the Bill, which relates to legal content that is supposedly harmful to adults. It is quite wrong for the Government to try to protect grown-ups from seeing or saying something online which isn’t unlawful offline, as you said on GB News last week, Liz.
But there are other aspects of the Online Safety Bill that also pose a threat to free speech.
For instance, it would require providers likeYouTube, Facebook andTwitter to remove content that’s illegal in any part of the United Kingdom. So if something is illegal to say in Scotland, but not in the rest of the UK, the big social media companies would have to remove it in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Do we really want to empower Nicola Sturgeon to dictate what the entire British population is allowed to see and say online?
That seems flat out insane, particularly as Scotland has just passed the Hate Crime and Public Order Act, which will make it illegal to say a large number of things that are currently lawful to say in the rest of the UK.
Liz, you said a couple of weeks ago that Nicola Sturgeon was an attention-seeker best ignored.
You won’t be able to ignore her if you don’t do something about this major flaw in the Bill.
I’m also pleased that both of you have said you don’t think the police should be spending so much time investigating “non-crime hate incidents” on social media – something we have long campaigned against.These usually relate to something said that’s controversial, which someone else has complained about but which isn’t against the law.
Instead of telling complainants to grow a thicker skin, the police follow the guidance issued by the College of Policing in 2014, which compels them to investigate all reports of “hate incidents” and record them on police databases, even if they conclude no crime has been committed.
They can then show up in enhanced criminal records checks, stopping people getting jobs.
We calculate over 250,000 “non-crime hate incidents” have been investigated and recorded by police in England andWales since 2014.That’s more than 75 a day.
Not only is this an infringement of our free speech, it’s a colossal waste of police time.Why are they devoting precious resources to investigating “non-crime” when so many actual crimes go unsolved?
A newspaper investigation has revealed that police failed to solve a single theft in more than eight of 10 neighbourhoods in England and Wales in the past three years. I hope you’ll tell the constabulary to stop investigating our tweets and start policing our streets.
Worth reading in full.