The decision by the UK government to pursue stiffer penalties for grossly offensive communications is a danger to the right to free speech.
Kirsty Hughes, CEO of Index on Censorship, said:
“Index is deeply concerned at the government’s apparent intention to deepen the criminal penalties for grossly offensive communications sent through the internet or social media. Just last year, the then Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer put out a very sensible set of guidelines to limit the number of arrests for social media posts that may be offensive to some but did not constitute a criminal offence. Now we are going backwards. Offence is a subjective concept and if we want to live in a society without offence we will live in a society without free speech.”
Those who participate in cyber bullying and online stalking could face jail time of up to two years after the government showed support for tougher laws on the issue. Those who bombard recipients with explicit text messages also make the list. In fact, according to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who spoke with the Evening Standard, the new rules will target any offenders who make victims’ lives a misery by abusing or sexually harassing them online or via mobile devices.
The proposed laws, which would also give prosecutors more time to build their cases against trolls, is a result of Ealing’s MP Angie Bray, who rose the case in parliament of a 14-year old constituent who suffered an onslaught of ‘verbal rape’ via 2,000 text messages over an 18 month period.