There is a common belief that modern technology makes it harder to censor people. Unfortunately, recent events have shown otherwise. Great Britain is leading a charge that, if unchecked, will allow almost any government to censor almost anyone anywhere.
Great Britain recently extradited Gerald Toben, an Australian national, to Germany to face charges of Holocaust denial after Toben landed at Heathrow airport. Toben is no doubt an odious human being. However, laws such as Germany’s laws on H holocaust denial are infringement of free speech rights. More disturbingly, Toben did not commit his crime in Germany. However, since his blog was visible in Germany, Germany asserts that he has violated their laws. And Great Britain is going along with it.
In the past, Great Britain’s actions have been detrimental to free speech. Great Britain has been strongly criticized in the past for its libel laws under which the burden of proof to is placed automatically on the defendant. Together with a very low standard of what constitutes publication in Great Britain, Britain has become known for “libel tourism.” In one memorable case, an American author was successfully sued in Great Britain when 23 copies of her book were bought online by people in Great Britain. However, the British libel laws have at least one saving grace: they are civil penalties. The German law in question is criminal.
This is all the more disturbing because many countries are in the process of strengthening their laws restricting speech or are cracking down on offensive speech. Italy has recently attempted to prosecute an Italian comedian for insulting the Pope. The Netherlands recently decided to expand its anti-blasphemy laws to include speech offensive to any group. . If I insult the Pope and then land in Great Britain, would they send me to Italy or the Netherlands first?
Great Britain’s reaction to Toben is not productive. Great Britain should officially repudiate this stance and Germany should officially repudiate prosecution of people whose only crime is to have a website that can be accessed in Germany. These laws may be used now to imprison those whom we despise but the risk is too high.
Edit: The above contains some minor factual issues that don't detract from the central point. See the anonymous commentator's remark below for details.
Follow up edit: It looks like Toben will not be sent to Germany after all. See this article.
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