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Dominic Raab Supports Removing Online Anonymity To Tackle "Out Of Control" Abuse Of MPs

3 min read

The deputy prime minister has shown support for calls from the Home Secretary to crack down on online abuse in faced by MPs.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Sunday that she believed further steps should be taken to protect MPs by removing anonymity from people on social media.

The fresh push comes following the death of Conservative MP Sir David Amess who was fatally attacked at his constituency surgery on Friday. The incident is being treated as terrorism. 

Patel said the government wanted to make some "big changes" through its Online Harms legislation, including a fresh look at anonymous posting and work on encryption used to keep messages private on instant messaging apps.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that he supported the move provided remove most anonymity from social media users, provided there was "balance" to protect those who required it to keep themselves safe, such as whistleblowers and those living under oppressive regimes.

"The elephant in the room in all this is the online hate that we all get, it’s out of control," he told Sky News.

"I know the Home Secretary has talked about what more she wants to do there and the Online Harms Bill is going through pre-legislative scrutiny.

"There is certainly an element of more people who are at-risk and vulnerable because they've been spending more time online.

"I’m absolutely confident that intelligence services and the police are monitoring that with maximum energy and vigour."

He added: "What you don't want to do is send a message to tyrants all over the world that they can expose people who are campaigning bravely and need that anonymity. Equally, we know that some of those campaigning are vulnerable and do not want to be in the public domain.

"I don't see why people should be able to abuse the position on social media from a veil of anonymity."

Raab said that online abuse and harassment against MPs had increased significantly since he was elected in 2010. He said that in the last two years he had received three credible threats to his life or safety.

"When you’re in a frontline job you’ll get more of it, but I've had three threats to life and limb that have required intervention in the last two years," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"This is not entirely out of the blue because we had Jo Cox before, we had the case of Stephen Timms, but everyone has had this experience of intensifying abuse and that tipping into threats."

Other measures, such as police or security guards attending MPs surgeries have also been suggested since the killing of Amess, but Raab said any new arrangements must not drive a "wedge" between elected officials and the public.

"We're all conscious that as we try and make sure we've got that connection of trust with our constituents and our communities, which all MPs across the divide want to rally around and cherish and nurture," he said.

"I think everyone has a real nervousness and concern and the forces are already doing this – local forces need to sit down with them and see what they can do to provide the concrete security but also what will give them reassurance and peace of mind.

"We're not going to be much good for our constituents if we're not confident going into those meetings and we're all looking over our shoulder with trepidation."

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Read the most recent article written by John Johnston - MP Warns That Online Hate Could Lead To More Real World Attacks On Parliamentarians