A couple of worrying developments to note this week in terms of individual freedoms, particularly as they relate to the internet. The United Kingdom is continuing its post-Brexit drift to the further reaches of the authoritarian right with the imminent signing into law of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Justifiably called a “Snoopers’ Charter”, the legislation will bring into existence a regime of mass surveillance unparalleled in the democratic world. Instead of riding on the coattails of its US partners the British state and its intelligence agencies will be granted permissions that would be unthinkable – or unconstitutional – in an American context. Something that will certainly suit the needs of the unscrupulous folks in Langley and Fort Meade. However the legislation will also introduce domestic rules into Britain itself, including a secret database that will store the web history of every internet user in the United Kingdom or anyone who uses a UK-based web service. James Vincent has more details at the Verge.
Meanwhile Twitter has initiated an apparent cull of the social media platform, suspending or closing down the accounts of people it regards as promoting politically problematic opinions. In the United States this has resulted in a significant number of men and women espousing ultra-conservative or alt-right views being silenced over the last two weeks. According to the Verge:
“Among the users suspended this week is Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank that, according to its website, is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States.” Spencer’s personal verified account was suspended, as were those of the National Policy Institute and his magazine, Radix Journal. Other suspended alt-right Twitter users include Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers.”
While some accounts have been reactivated, particularly those associated with ultracon journalists or bloggers, the celebratory air among some left-wing and progressive commentators has puzzled me. Since when do liberals approve of political censorship? Of silencing voices we disagree with? We have seen in recent times where such actions lead. Shutting down contrarian or populist sentiment has given Britain the disaster that is Brexit while the same social and cultural phenomenon has given the United States president-elect Trump.
In truth, what can be targeted at the ideological right can also be aimed at the ideological left. Taking away the freedom of expression in a supposedly pluralistic democracy is a two-edged sword. In the recent past both the UK and the US sought to sideline or suppress the views of Irish republicans and their supporters, to greater or lesser degrees. Draconian censorship by the government and press in the United Kingdom, both voluntary and through legislation, undoubtedly contributed to prolonging the conflict in the north-east of Ireland, the so-called Troubles. It a very real and provable sense, censorship kills. Progressives should reject and abhor it wherever it is found; not demand even more of it.