“I can attest from my time dealing with much of the correspondence in No. 10 Downing street that Prime Ministers receive much hate mail,” said the then-member for the British electorate of Warrington South in 1988, supporting the government’s Malicious Communications Act. The Act criminalises indecent or offensive electronic communications.
This is where that concern for the feelings of Prime Ministers has led: a raid in the middle of the night on the home of a 17 year old boy accused of sending offensive tweets to a famous swimming star.
But it isn’t only the Malicious Communications Act that the rogue tweeter could be liable under. He could be punished under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which makes unlawful the harassment of another person. Or the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which makes unlawful any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and that causes another person alarm or distress. Or the Communications Act 2003, which criminalises electronic messages of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. (This post – which includes many of the offensive tweets in question – details the legal specifics.)
The right not to be offended is now well established in Britain. It would take an extraordinary effort to wind it back. Australia must be careful not to travel down this path.