Free speech includes the right to say things that offend others. Because even in North Korea, people are free to say things that offend no-one.
So this news is disturbing:
A 17-year-old has been arrested in Weymouth after malicious tweets were sent to Olympic diver #Tom Daley on Monday.
A police spokeswoman said: 'A 17-year-old man was arrested by Dorset Police officers in the early hours this morning at a guesthouse in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications. He is currently helping police with their inquiries.'
Daley retweeted a message from user Rileyy69 which said: 'You let your dad down i hope you know that.' Daley responded by tweeting: 'After giving it my all... you get idiots sending me this...'
While I've no doubt that @Rileyy69 is an immature prat, do we really need to get the criminal law involved with this? Of course, we do not. This law is both impractical and pernicious.
It's impractical because everyone has at some point said something offensive to others, so if we rigourously enforced this law we'd have to imprison the entire population of the country.
More importantly, it's pernicious because it creates a chilling effect on free speech. At present this law is unlikely to enforced against explicitly political speech (so in practise I won't be presecuted for this post). But who knows what a future government might do? If the BNP won a general election. laws like this mean that they could turn Britain into an authoritarian hellhole without passing any new laws.
(One of the worst laws in this respect is the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which give the government the power to do anything ("may make any provision" is the text of the Act)).
This country needs to robustly protect free speech. And that includes, indeed requires to be legal speech that others find offensive. Because I would much rather that people be allowed to say things that offend me, than that people to be too fearful to open their mouths.
Any person who sends to another person a letter, electronic communication or article of any description which convey a message which is indecent or grossly offensive is guilty of an offence if his purpose, or one of his purposes, in sending it is that it should cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.
Ironically, this law makes itself illegal, and the people who wrote it criminals. Consider:
I would further point out that the 1988 act was passed by the Conservative Party, and the 2001 act by the Labour Party. Both parties have therefore colluded in Britain's long sleepwalk to authoritarianism. And MPs who voted for either law deserve to be prosecuted for their own legislation.