What happens when the surveillance/informant state clashes with the speech-regulating state?
Well, at least in the United Kingdom, it looks as if the speech-regulating state wins.
Via Thatcher, I saw this decision by the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, the U.K.'s advertising watchdog. The decision reviewed an advertisement with the following text:
A radio ad for the Anti-Terrorist Hotline stated "The following message is brought to you by Talk Sport and the Anti-Terrorist Hotline. The man at the end of the street doesn't talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route. This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential, Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 XXXXXX. If you suspect it, report it".
The Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers defended the ad as "raising awareness" and informing the public that a combination of factors might lead them to conclude that someone is up to something nefarious. The ASA ruled that the ad should not be broadcast again. The ASA did not so rule on the basis that the advertisement represents part of the U.K.'s abandonment of its remarkable common law heritage of liberty, and its steady march towards a freakishly regulated surveillance state that is obsessed with getting citizens, including children, to inform on each other for wildly speculative reasons.
No, the ASA found the ad violated the ultimate speech-regulating sin — it's not that it promotes an authoritarian state that treads on all that makes England great, it's far, far worse than that. Someone's feelings might be hurt.
However, we considered that the ad could also describe the behaviour of a number of law-abiding people within a community and we considered that some listeners, who might identify with the behaviours referred to in the ad, could find the implication that their behaviour was suspicious, offensive. We also considered that some listeners might be offended by the suggestion that they report members of their community for acting in the way described. We therefore concluded that the ad could cause serious offence.
Now, the ASA is dead right that the advertisement is offensive. It's horrifically offensive to suggest that if you mind your own damn business and keep your blinds closed and avoid getting into debt by eschewing credit cards, there's any remotely rational basis to think you're up to no good. It promotes governance according to the socially totalitarian fantasies of the Gladys Kravitzes of the world, and indulges our base tendencies to suspect and scorn the odd man out. But focusing on it being offensive is missing the point, like asking whether or not police officers said "please" and "thank you" when they conducted an illegal search on your house. It's awful because it promotes the informant state and tightens the grasp of law enforcement over society, and encourages the view that everything, however mundane, is potentially deadly, so obey your local police officer! Only he can protect you!
If you're going to give a quasi-government, quasi-private entity the authority to regulate advertising expression based on "offense", why not give it authority to reject government advertising on the basis that it takes a shit on your cultural heritage and promotes totalitarian thinking?
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