We have previously discussed how politicians often attack free speech and other rights to show that they are “tough” on terror after attacks. Prime Minister Theresa May however may have set a record. May did not hesitate in immediately blaming the Internet and calling for government regulation of free speech to combat attacks like the one in London. Of course, if these terrorists were connected to ISIS (or inspired by ISIS), their extremism was not caused by free speech on the Internet. Indeed, the Internet often allows security to track extremists on the web.
May wants new rules for cyberspace would “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online” and impose new controls over such speech. Governments have long sought to regulate the Internet, which remains the single greatest invention for free speech since the emergence of the printing press. Government naturally gravitate toward more and more control over communications. China has taken the lead in curtailing free speech on the Internet but Western nations often run into free speech principles when officials demand control over the web. Thus, governments often wait for an attack to try to get people to surrender their free speech willingly. There is nothing like fear to get a free people to give up part of their freedom.
The only thing missing was May saying “England Prevails”:
England of course has been a free fall for free speech. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Even the Home Secretary has been accused of hate speech for criticizing immigrant workers.
The combination of the increasing English criminalization of speech with new Internet controls could be a deadly combination for free speech. It is alarming how many citizens will dismiss free speech principles when told that less freedom will make them more safe. It is the ancient Siren’s Call of all governments. May is only the latest government official to blame free speech – an easy target for governments who long for greater control over communications. However, the United Kingdom shows that it is easy to surrender rights but it is very hard to regain those rights. Citizens should tell May that her job is to make Britain safe while preserving the freedoms that define Britain.