On Saturday, I attended the excellent ORGCon in London, put on by the Open Rights Group. This was a conference with a single track and a full roster of speakers – no breakouts, no seminars. And it was very enjoyable, with interesting contributions from names I hadn’t heard before.
One of those was Jamie Bartlett, who works at the think tank Demos. He gave some very interesting insights into the nature and future of extremism. he talked about the dissolving of the centre-left/centre-right consensus in the UK, and the rise of views further out on the wings of politics. He feels this is a good thing, as this is always the source of political change, but it seems like the ability and scope to express those views is being reduced and suppressed.
He (correctly, in my view) identified the recent raising by Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, of the penalty for looking at extremist content on the web to 15 years as a sign of weakness, because they know they can’t actually stop people looking using censorship so have to scare them instead.
The insight which particularly stuck with me was the following. He suggested that in the next decade in the West, two things will happen to censorship. Firstly, it will get more draconian, as governments try harder to suppress things and pass more laws requiring ISPs to censor people’s feeds. Secondly, it will get less effective, as tools like Tor and VPNs become more mainstream and easier to use. This is a concerning combination for those concerned about freedom of speech.