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8 November, 2005

Off to the law library

Maybe it's because I haven't been paying especial attention to the topic, but I hadn't appreciated the extent to which the Government's Terrorism Bill will affect legitimate levels of free speech*, and specifically the activities of higher education institutions.  As the Guardian reports, academics and librarians are concerned that chemistry textbooks describing explosives or ethics seminars on political violence would have to be withdrawn, rather than face prosecution for aiding or glorifying terrorism.

"We would have to remove from our collections materials that we thought could incite terrorism," says Paul Ayris, director of University College London's library services. "Guy Fawkes was a terrorist. Am I meant to remove any reference to him? This bill could put librarians in the impossible role of moral gatekeepers."
Even if I thought universities had any role in conveying state-approved morality – and I don't – the suppression of reasoned discussion and properly-contextualised information is no solution.

* That's 'legitimate', or 'reasonable' levels of free speech (however that's defined). As I said almost two years ago, I don't even vaguely support the principle of 'totally free speech at any price'. To me, the responsibility to self-censor is more important, and in extreme cases, the state has to have some limited regulatory role. This defines one of my boundaries between primacy of the individual (normally my priority) and functioning of the state (for the collective benefit of individuals).

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