Government harms free speech and free press with online harms white paper

In light of the government's release of the online harms white paper, the Adam Smith Institute has released the following statement. We worry that this attempt at controlling the Internet will entrench big tech players, stymie innovation, and lead to press censorship through the back door.

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at free market think tank the Adam Smith Institute, says:

“The Government should be ashamed of themselves for leading the Western world in internet censorship.

“The proposals are a historic attack on freedom of speech and the free press, the very core of Britain's liberal democratic foundations. At a time when Britain is criticising violations of freedom of expression in states like Iran, China and Russia, we should not be undermining our freedom at home. Britain will no longer be called a free society if her citizens and her press are directed by Government as to what they can view, think and say.

“The Government aren’t just targeting illegal material, they explicitly want to censor ‘Harms with a less clear legal definition,’ that is, otherwise completely legal speech. It’s not hard to imagine an overly zealous government regulator and risk adverse tech sites, who want to avoid fines and going to jail, removing swaths of lawful speech.

“The scope of this censorship will include ‘any company that allows users to share or discover user generated content or interact with each other online,’ basically the entity of the internet – not just the tech giants. This covers web forums like Mumsnet, online retailers like Amazon, travel websites like TripAdvisor, and even news websites.

“If Britain wants to have a thriving tech and start-up sector, regulating them into oblivion is probably not the right approach.

“These measures will entrench the market position of the tech giants like Facebook – because they can afford to comply with the massive new costs of this red tape. Mark Zuckerberg gleefully called for more regulation last week. It’ll be start-ups and smaller sites which will suffer under the heavy hand of this regime."

If you have any questions or wish to arrange an interview with Matthew Lesh please contact ASI media line on 07904099599 or via matt@adamsmith.org.