“David’s Law”: How the Amess attack will be used to control the internet

The recent killing is already being used as ammunition to attack independent social media and the very idea of anonymity on the web.

Kit Knightly

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On October 15th Sir David Amess MP was attending a constituency “surgery” at Belfairs church in Leigh-on-Sea. During the meeting, a young man emerged from the crowd and stabbed the MP several times.

Ambulances and police were called. They attempted to revive him at the scene, but he was declared dead.

The suspect, meanwhile, made no attempt to flee. It has since been reported he is the son of a Somali politician, was known to the UK’s “Prevent” counter-terrorism programme, and was reportedly “radicalised online”.

The killing is being treated as a “terrorist incident”.

These are the alleged facts of the case as they have been released to the public.

Are they true? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s too early to say, and we’ll likely never know for sure. The truth is – for everyone outside the Amess family and friends – it really isn’t the most pressing issue. Whatever the reality of the “attack”, what we, the 99%, need to be most concerned about is the agenda coming in its wake

Real attack or not, false flag or not, the fallout is the same: Censorship, state control and “David’s Law”.

The Online Harms Bill

The first reaction to the Amess attack has been renewed coverage of, and loud calls for, the “online harms” bill to be put to a vote. All this despite there being no publicly released evidence linking the Amess attack to any “online harms” at all.

The “Online Harms Prevention Bill” is not in any way a response to Amess’ death and has actually been in development for a while. A white paper reporting the need for the bill was first published in April 2019, then updated in December 2020.

This was followed by a draft bill in May 2021 and then a report on “Regulating Online Harms”, published in August.

The Bill has existed for over eighteen months, and any attempts to link it to David Amess are purely manipulative tactics designed to force it through parliament on a wave of emotion.

It might be dismissed by some as ‘callous’ to talk about the alleged murder of a seemingly innocent person in terms of cynical agenda – but it’s the very opposite. It’s an expression of concern and social responsibility. The establishment uses these events as gambits, so we have to get used to reading them as such if we want to protect the rights and freedoms that will be freshly attacked.

We’re already seeing a deluge of coverage in the press talking up the dangers of our “toxic political discourse” and the threat that “divisive polarised speech” poses because it can “radicalise” people and “create the climate where violence becomes inevitable”.

The Mirror warns of an increase in “bedroom radicals” thanks to lockdowns. The Guardian echoes this, claiming “online hate” is “nastier than ever” and “action is required”.

The Telegraph headlines: “Social media companies ‘must do more’ to protect MPs from online hate”

Politicians are likewise prepping the ground for the bill to pass.

Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab went on Sky News to talk about “online hate” being “out of control”.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the supposed “opposition”, used the first PMQs since the attack to rail against the lack of regulation of the internet and call for something to be done. Boris has already committed to bringing the “Online Harms” vote forward “before Christmas” when it was previously expected to wait until at least spring of 2022.

So, what’s in this bill?

Nothing much that hasn’t been said before. The White Paper and report proselytise about the need to protect children, women, ethnic minorities and “the vulnerable” from “hate”. The bill itself suggests a new “statutory duty of care” for the internet, and a new “regulatory body” with a “suite of powers” to ensure companies fulfil this “duty of care”.

There are chapters dedicated to actual crimes, such as child pornography and threats of violence, but also much murkier “harms” described as “legal but harmful”. These include, but are not limited to, “disinformation” and “bullying”. As always, the language of legislature is deliberately obscure, shrouded in the muddied meaning of bureaucratic double-talk.

One concrete, and concerning, clause would grant OfCom the power to demand private user information from internet providers and social media companies (although we do know they do this already).

But the most dangerous part of the bill may not even be written yet…

“David’s Law”

Within days of the news breaking Tory MPs were calling on Boris Johnson to enact “David’s Law”.

“David’s Law” would be either new legislation or a “strengthening” of the current proposed legislation, to totally remove online anonymity.

Tory MP Mark Francois, said in a speech to the Commons:

So let’s put, if I may be so presumptuous, David’s Law onto the statute book, the essence of which would be that while people in public life must remain open to legitimate criticism, they can no longer be vilified or their families subject to the most horrendous abuse, especially from people who hide behind a cloak of anonymity with the connivance of the social media companies for profit.”

Priti Patel is already “considering” taking away the “right to anonymity online”.

Other politicians, including Dominiic Raab and Lindsey Hoyle, the speaker of the house, have expressed total agreement.

Politico headlines the UK is “wrestling with anonymity”.

But what exactly would “ending anonymity” entail? That’s not clear. The white paper discusses how “anonymous accounts” can be used to “hide illegal activity”, and that companies should do more to prevent this, but there is nothing in there about outright banning them.

Any such formal ban would involve amending the bill, or writing a new one. Hence we have talk in parliament of “strengthening” the proposed legislation, but does that mean a ban? Perhaps, perhaps not.

A more likely (and more British) approach, as we are already seeing with vaccine passports, would be to make it an informal ban by pressuring the companies themselves to act outside of legislative compulsion. Parliament will author new “guidance” or “recommendations” on the opening of social media accounts, without ever enforcing them as law.

But partner this with steep fines for illegal activity, “hate speech” or “misinformation”, along with the proposal to make platforms criminally liable for “harmful content”, and companies become their own strict censors in the name of protecting their profit margin.

This is not a fringe theory at all, David Davis MP of all people, described exactly this process in warning that the online harms bill could become a “censor’s charter”.

It’s not hard to see how that system could be used to totally remove the idea of online anonymity without ever making it actually illegal, but rather making it too financially risky. Thus skirting any accusations of state censorship or authoritarianism.

We already know major internet players work hand-in-glove with governments all over the world, so they can be relied upon to enforce any new “duty of care” regulations. But the smaller competitors, who use privacy as a major selling point, can expect to be put in the media crosshairs.

Enter Telegram.

The war on Telegram

Telegram, for those who aren’t familiar, is an encrypted private messaging service created by Russian Pavel Durov. It became the go-to encrypted service after Facebook bought Whatsapp, and its “channel” feature is a very useful way to communicate with thousands upon thousands of people at once. During the “pandemic” it has become a hub for those organizing protests and broadcasting information banned from mainstream platforms.

All of that has clearly put it on the state’s hit list, because somehow, in all the outpouring of emotion following Amess’ stabbing, it is Telegram that comes in for specific criticism.

To be clear: Telegram is not yet known to have played any part whatsoever in the attack on David Amess. None. It’s not even known whether or not the alleged killer had a telegram account.

Despite this, yesterday in Parliament, Sir Keir Starmer attacked Telegram as the “app of choice for extremists”.

Interestingly, he was citing a report from the NGO Hope Not Hate which was released on October 13th, just two days before Amess was stabbed.

In fact, Telegram has been the subject of ongoing media smears for years, and these have only intensified in the last few days.

Back in 2016, Gizmodo was telling people they should “delete telegram right now”, ironically because it wasn’t really encrypted enough. This story was repeated by Vice in November 2020 and then Wired in January of this year.

Also in January, following the “riot” on Capitol Hill, Telegram was accused of being a safe haven for the “far-right”.

Vox headlined:

Why right-wing extremists’ favorite new platform is so dangerous

The Washington Post went with:

Far-right groups move online conversations from social media to chat apps — and out of view of law enforcement

In April Forbes reported that Telegram was “dangerous”. In May it was a platform “where cyber criminals share stolen data”. And then in June the New York Times called it a “misinformation hotspot”.

A September article in Politico accuses Telegram of allowing “misinformation” intended to influence the recent German election.

Also in September, the Financial Times called Telegram a new “dark web for cyber criminals”.

And an October article in Wired accuses the platform of being a “cesspool of antisemtic content”.

It goes on and on and on.

Perhaps most tellingly, Telegram is regularly blamed for Covid-related “misinformation”, along with selling fake Vaccine passes and allowing “threats to NHS workers”.

Are you seeing the pattern?

Well…are you?

Although all this is framed as a response to the death of David Amess, none of it has yet been shown to have any relevance to the Amess case at all, and all of it predates the murder happening.

The online harms bill is almost three years old, the attacks on Telegram have been going on for over a year, and you can find a steady stream of media attacks on online anonymity going back over a decade.

As so often, the “reaction” to this “problem” is selling us a “solution” they’ve had planned for years.

Since at least 2016 MPs have been talking about “reclaiming the net”, while outlets like The Guardian have been talking about creating “the web we want”, and producing tortured statistical reports to paint the web as a dangerous place.

(Interesting note: those butchered “statistics” are referenced in the Online Harms white paper, a little incite into the self-sustaining nature of propaganda).

The lesson we should all learn: “Policy” is never a response, policy is an aim, a predetermined conclusion.

It is decided and written, and then the “reality” that justifies that policy is constructed, either through opportunistic use of real tragedies, cultivated public opinion, false-flag attacks or pure invention.

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Categories: censorship, free speech, latest, UK