freedom rules's blog

The trouble with speech codes

The US First Amendment Center recently flagged up research showing the dominance of speech codes on US campuses. An analysis of more than 330 colleges across the USA found that some 68 per cent have policies that ‘clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech’.

This included The University of California at Los Angeles’ harassment policy, which states that ‘Sexual harassment may include: derogatory remarks about one’s clothing, body, or sexual activities based on gender; disparaging remarks, jokes, and teasing based on gender; verbal harassment or abuse; subtle pressure for sexual activity; unwelcome touching, patting, or pinching; demanding sexual favors’. It’s a wonder that students there have a social life at all.

Who's afraid of Holocaust denial?

Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has proposed making Holocaust denial a crime and banning Nazi symbols across the EU. However, each member state will have the right to set its own rules about punishment.

The Germans are not the first to attempt an EU-wide ban against Holocaust denial; two years ago, Luxemburg used its EU presidency to try to unify legal standards for Holocaust denial. At the time, Italy blocked the legislation because it would breach freedom of speech.

Laws against denying the Holocaust already exist in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Spain. EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, attending an informal meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Dresden, said: 'While preserving the freedom of expression we have to prevent inciting hatred.' But it is hard to see just how the German proposal, which also seeks to criminalise racist declarations that are an incitement to violence against a specific person or group, will preserve freedom of expression.

Zero tolerance for Christmas fun

There’s a seasonal problem in Lynn, according to local police, who this year are introducing a ‘zero-tolerance’ crackdown during the festive season against anyone acting in a ‘drunken and violent way’. The zero-tolerance approach applies to any form of anti-social behaviour, which, as we know, has an ever-widening definition.

Those disobeying police orders in Lynn will risk being banned from the town centre and may face arrest with strict bail conditions. Foot-patrolling police officers will provide ‘high visibility’ controls and will confiscate alcohol being drunk in public places, as well as carrying out walk-through checks in main pubs and clubs for under-age drinkers. They will enforce dispersal orders and use hand-held and vehicle-installed cameras to gather CCTV evidence in case anyone should get away with their anti-social behaviour on the night. Parents will receive letters if their kids take part in misconduct.

Down with the databases!

UK home secretary John Reid has announced the cancellation of the super database, which was intended to store information on everyone in one place. Even though it was abandoned due to cost implications, rather than as a result of public debate about our liberties, this has been heralded as a great success for those of us wanting a little breathing room from Nanny Reid's cuddly side.

It is, in fact, no victory at all. The government will still be creating the National Identity Register, collecting all sorts of data on us. The only difference is that now it will be on three other (super-reliable, I’m sure) computer systems. This is no sign of the government becoming a bit more enlightened; rather it's a case of opting for another, cheaper method of keeping an eye on us all.

What if we do have something to hide?

Once again we are told that if we’ve got nothing to hide, then we’ve got nothing to worry about. This time it is immigration minister Liam Byrne, referring to the introduction of a biometric scanning system at Heathrow airport. Justified in terms of efficiency, the biometric scans will require us to register 13 different types of biometric data on a national database. This will then be CRB checked and potentially shared with other countries.

Having been deeply infuriated by long queues and jobsworth airport officials many times in the past, I’m keen for airports to try to make the experience a little less hellish. What I don’t want to do, however, is to register my DNA in order to jump the queues. Surely employing more staff and implementing better management and training would be a less authoritarian alternative?


You can almost picture the headlines: ‘Government allows freedom group to run pro-freedom advert!’ or ‘All clear for dictator comparison, say free-speech regulators’. Confused? This is the story of NO2ID’s ‘Hitler’ advert, which some found offensive. The anti-ID cards campaigning group has been running an ad featuring a picture of Tony Blair with a barcode above his upper lip, purposely encouraging Hitler comparisons. After received a whopping eight complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority decided to consider action against the advert.

On music-free buses

As any Londoner will tell you, the daily commute can be a hellish business. Most people have to endure a good half hour of being tightly crammed into sweaty, stuffy carriages, which can sometimes push even the most placid person to breaking point. A noticeable trend recently on my commute is an increase in the number of (typically glazed-eyed) kids who play crap dance music really loudly through the speakers on their mobiles.

This manages to make the commute even worse. People look around, irritated and roll eyes at each other. Others will talk openly to one another about how unfair it is for one person to impose their musical tastes on everyone else. In the age of the iPod, these kids could simply put on headphones. Playing loud music in a packed bus can only be a deliberate attempt to wind people up.

Self-censorship is still censorship

To state that one is against censorship while still advocating a voluntary system of self-censorship strikes me as hypocrisy. Few should be surprised, however, that this is the position taken by the director of the Press Complaints Commission. Speaking at a ‘free speech’ session at the Commission for Racial Equality’s big conference, Tim Toulim addressed concern around the absence of a mechanism for redress, for those ‘angered at content’ on the internet. Referring principally to blogs, Mr Toulim said a voluntary code of ‘self-imposed regulation’ would be the best solution.

Rip up this 'social contract'

A major policy review initiated by UK prime minister Tony Blair will examine the future relationship between citizen and state – and it looks like the government will concern itself with everything from our family lives to our diets and hips. The Cabinet Office has spoken of creating ‘a new more explicit contract between the state and the citizen on agreed public outcomes’. Agreed by the six cabinets conducting the policy review, that is.

So far, it seems the government’s review is in fact a comprehensive behaviour modification scheme. Some key proposals include local health authorities only offering hip replacement to patients who try to keep their weight down and parents having to sign individual contracts with schools outlining what they are expected to do at home to advance their child’s education.

Oh Christ! Now Christians are banned

University Christian Unions have joined the list of free speech martyrs after being banned from official student society lists or denied access to facilities by Student Unions at four UK universities.

At Exeter, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt Universities, Christian Unions have been suspended for breaching rules on equal opportunities, denying executive membership to non-Christians and for being homophobic. The Vice President of the Christian Union at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh denied the accusation, saying they put homosexuality 'in the same category as fornication and adultery so it doesn't single it out and say it is worse than anything else. According to the Bible we have all sinned.'

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