Campaigners have warned that Scotland faces being the most-censored part of the UK online, as it emerges UK Government online safety plans are being amended to protect free expression. This week, The Sun reported that UK Ministers will drop controversial “legal but harmful” provisions from the Online Safety Bill after civil liberties groups warned they would hand tech companies huge censorship powers.
Critics had warned that platforms would classify unpopular or heterodox opinions as “harmful” and take steps to remove associated content, undermining the right of UK citizens to state their views online. If the UK Government has stripped out the problem provisions, people’s right to express themselves in the online world would remain the same in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but not north of the border.
Last year, the Scottish Government’s controversial Hate Crime and Public Order Act was passed at Holyrood. This will apply to comments made on websites and on social media, although it has not yet been implemented. A spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, which spearheaded opposition to the plans, stressed that people in Scotland could face a more censorious online atmosphere than the rest of the UK if it is:
“The UK Government appears to have bowed to pressure to remove vague provisions from the Online Safety Bill that could seriously undermine free expression. This is good news for people in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland but will be less welcome to Scots, who still have the threat of the controversial Hate Crime Act hanging over their heads.
“Scottish Ministers have not set a date for the commencement of this legislation yet, given remaining problems. Police officers are struggling to know how to understand and apply the law. There is a real risk of malicious reporting and unjust court cases involving the ‘stirring up of hatred’. Especially given the febrile debate surrounding trans issues.
“It is clear from the backlash against both the Hate Crime Act and the Online Safety Bill that broad legislation targeting citizens’ speech is both deeply unpopular, and highly problematic. We believe the right path for the Scottish Government is to scrap the contentious ‘stirring up’ offences it has sought to introduce. It risks a number of bad outcomes if not.
“If Ministers do forge ahead, Scottish citizens could become the most-censored people online in the UK. This would include self-censorship – a decision not to air one’s opinion on a contentious aspect of political or cultural debate for fear of falling foul of the law. This would be a huge step backwards for our country, steeped in Enlightenment values.”
Notes for Editors:
The Free to Disagree campaign is supported by: Index on Censorship; Manifesto Club; Adam Smith Institute; Emma Webb, Civitas; Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner; Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader, SNP; the National Secular Society; The Christian Institute; Network of Sikh Organisations; Freedom Association; Kapil Summan, Editor, Scottish Legal News; Dr Stuart Waiton, sociologist, Abertay University; Madeleine Kearns, journalist.
For more information contact:
Jamie Gillies: email@example.com