While not remotely a new theme in human discourse it’s already feeling like 2015 will, more than ever, be about how we as citizens of our respective nations and the world agree about interacting with each other.
I’m sure no-one reading this will be surprised when I link this to security vs. privacy. In fact a colleague recently said to me that “my views about decreasing electronic surveillance in the UK were well known”. I was, to be honest, rather surprised and disappointed by this as my views, long with those groups I belong to, such as the Open Rights Group, are all about proportionally and oversight. Electronic surveillance is obviously a very important thing for everyone’s security but it’s a question of who does it, what are they allowed to do, who knows what they do and what can be done if they overstep agreed principles.
It’s those principles I want to discuss today. While the UK Parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is calling for “A new Magna Carta” and the Labour Party Digital Government Review calls for an Public Data Ethics Committee to have an open national conversation on how citizen data should be stored and used it still feels like there is little agreed consensus yet on what it is acceptable to say, write or store.
Following the appalling attack on the Charlie Hebdon offices in Paris there has been a million plus strong march in the French capital today supporting free speech. A variety of world leaders have been in attendance including both David Cameron and the Prime Ministers of Israel and Palestine.
Yet there is still no consensus of what “free speech” means.
One version I tend to agree with and endeavour to pass on to others can be found in Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech for Me but not for Thee.
But others certainly disagree. At the same time as marching for free speech Mr Cameron is calling on ISPs to add a “reporting button for terrorism” button onto websites. At the same time the head of MI5 is asking for further surveillance powers following the attacks. This follows a man being arrested for “making a malicious communication” about the Glasgow bin lorry crash over Twitter.
The march in Paris is happening 2 days after Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received the first 50 lashes of his sentence for blasphemy.
Different definitions of “decency” and “obscenity” if different US states have lead to attempts to prosecute owners of websites using the state law with the most conservative definitions.
But it’s very much not just relationships between citizens and the state. Swedish TV now has a show called “The Troll Hunters” which attempts to expose people running offensive harassment campaigns on the internet.
The EFF has decided to get involved in the issue of online harassment.
The BBC is currently reviewing it’s position on the display of images of Mohammed.
Ophelia Benson talks about the view of some people to the “moral commitment to censorship“.
PZ Meyers describes how some people are using “free speech” as a cover to try and persuade people to kill themselves.
Senior UK police officers are planning to introduce a Board of Ethics to look at how they work in the digital space.
Even Slashdot is talking about it – meaningfully no less.
As a member of multiple national and international communities I acknowledge we’re not going to solve this corner of the Culture Wars in 2015 but it’s going to be ever more in the spotlight and that must be a good thing.