Lord Balfe: The cost to privacy by preventing anonymous social media accounts is a price worth paying
Ahead of his oral question in the House of Lords tomorrow, Lord Balfe calls for a system whereby no one can send totally anonymous messages online.
It seems that almost every day we read of people being abused and threatened via the electronic media. Numerous women MPs from all parties have complained of the torrent of abuse and hate messages they receive. But this is not just about MP’s people in all walks of life have been targeted often with life changing consequences for themselves and their families.
Being careful to hide her identity I was speaking to a woman MP recently who came into the House not that long ago. I asked her what the biggest difference in her life was since being elected. She told me that prior to election she held a position which brought her into regular contact with the public often when they had problems. In many cases she did her best and heard little more. A few wrote or sent a card saying thank you. Since becoming an MP she had been subject to anonymous abuse and rape threats on a regular basis and it seemed no one could help or for that matter wanted to help. The general response was that nothing could be done and any action would involve curtailing free speech.
In my view one of the most important jobs of Government is to protect its citizenry. That is why we have a police force and why we live under what is known as the rule of law.
I do not believe that it impossible to effectively police electronic media. What I want is for the Government to say clearly that they will take steps to put before Parliament proposals to end the wild west of the electronic world.
I would like to see a system whereby no one can send totally anonymous messages as it is the anonymity that protects the sender of abusive messages. Of course, there will be a cost in terms of a loss of privacy but it can be done, and is a price worth paying.
There may well be a need to bring all data on shore. Possibly we will have to block some suppliers altogether. We may need laws making the platform from which messages are sent responsible for their content.
There will be objections that free speech is being curtailed and indeed it will be at least restricted, but in my view that is a price worth paying.
A civilised society cannot just stand by and let this level of abuse continue. The Government, hopefully with support from the Labour Party, many of whose MP’s have suffered much online abuse, must now act.
Lord Balfe of Dulwich is a Conservative member of the House of Lords.