Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Lisa Keogh sues her University for breach of the Equality Act – show your support here!

FSU member Lisa Keogh was in the final year of a law degree at Abertay University when she was placed under investigation for ‘inappropriate’ comments. Her ‘crime’ was to have challenged the view that transwomen should be treated exactly like women and be allowed to compete against women in contact sports during a seminar on ‘Gender, Feminism and the Law’. The FSU supported Lisa throughout the proceedings, and last year she was cleared of all charges by the University. She is now taking legal action against her alma mater for an alleged breach of the Equality Act 2010, and her solicitors have recently instructed FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Joanna Cherry QC to assist with the case. The next court hearing is on 22nd August. We’ve written about the case previously here. You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.

Conservative Party leadership contest – this week’s free speech news

Having identified our top five policy commitments for the next Prime Minister (here), we’ve been asking members and supporters who are also members of the Conservative Party to reach out to the candidates in the current leadership contest to see where they stand on these issues.

It’s clear from the tone and tenor of the leadership contest to date that our campaign is working. Thanks to our new campaigning tool, over 4,000 emails have now been sent to the Tory leadership candidates, urging them to do more to protect free speech. This week the contest continued with hustings in Leeds, Exeter and Cardiff, and at the Exeter event both candidates expressed their reservations about the Online Safety Bill.

Asked whether she would scrap the Bill, Liz Truss said she was “frankly worried” about some of what her 16 and 13-year-old daughters have seen online. But she went on to make it clear that “grown adults should be able to speak freely”. That was why, if elected leader, she would be “engaging with all my friends in the Conservative Party to make sure the Bill protects free speech”.

Rishi Sunak went further. He said there is “a very particular bit” of the Bill that he would look at again – namely, the “grey area” around legal but harmful speech.

The “very particular bit” in question is Clause 13, something that nine senior Tories, including FSU Advisory Council member Lord Frost, wrote to Nadine Dorries about in July, urging the Government to remove it. “We are concerned,” they said, “about both the legal precedent set by the state targeting so-called ‘legal but harmful’ speech and the censorious impact this measure would have.” The concept of putting restrictions on such speech, they reminded the Secretary of State, “undermines our long tradition of promoting freedom of expression”, and is therefore “as unConservative as it is unBritish”.

Mr Sunak’s pledge will play well with the grassroots – a recent YouGov poll of 982 Conservative Party members found that four in five (79%) believe people should be able to post things online that are offensive but legal, and that if something is legal to say offline it should be legal to type online. (Guido).

Over the next five weeks, the FSU is looking to extract similar commitments from both candidates in relation to the other issues we address in our five-point free speech manifesto: legal protections for workers’ speech rights, non-crime hate incidents, how to guard against political indoctrination in schools, and amending the Equality Act 2010 to ensure it cannot be used by universities to no-platform those who challenge fashionable woke orthodoxies

If you’re a Conservative Party member and you haven’t done so, please use our new campaigning tool to send them an email. If you’ve sent them an email, remember that the template can be tweaked to accommodate whatever free speech issues you’d now like to raise with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.

Tavistock gender identity clinic to shut down

The Tavistock gender identity clinic is being shut down by the NHS after a review found that it failed vulnerable children. (Spectator). Critics have long argued that the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) clinic, which has been prescribing puberty blockers to under-16 year-olds if they were deemed capable of giving consent, is “rushing” children into irreversible, “life-altering” medical procedures without proper consultation (Times), and, as Professor Kathleen Stock puts it, “handing out harmful drugs to gender-confused youth as if they were sweets” (Unherd).

As quoted in the Mail, the paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, who is leading a review of the service, found it was “not a safe or viable long-term option” and issued a series of recommendations for a radical overhaul of how the NHS treats young people who are questioning their gender. NHS England, which commissioned Cass to review the service in September 2020, says it will implement her recommendations in full and decommission the Tavistock clinic “by Spring 2023”. (Guardian).

“Hundreds of lives may have been blighted, some irreversibly,” said the Telegraph. “Such is the price of dangerous dogma ignoring caring common sense for far too long.” But bona fide medical concerns were ignored too, says Fraser Myers (Spiked), who goes on to point out that the interim findings from the Cass Review suggest clinicians “felt under pressure to adopt an unquestioning affirmative approach” to children seeking to change their sex. One clinical psychologist at Leeds GIDS expressed concerns to a colleague and was promptly branded “transphobic”. (Telegraph). The clinic’s child-safeguarding lead, Sonia Appleby, tried to report staff concerns to management, but was subsequently described as “hostile” and accused of having an “agenda”. (BBC). In 2018, Dr David Bell, staff governor at the Tavistock and a distinguished psychiatrist, wrote a report that captured the concerns of ten GIDS clinicians who were frustrated and horrified about what was happening at the clinic, only to see it suppressed by GIDS. (Telegraph). In 2019, a governor of the NHS trust in charge of the clinic resigned, claiming the “debate and discussion required is continually being closed down or effectively described as ‘transphobic”’.  And so on and so forth. For Fraser Myers, the fact that those who raised concerns “were met with dismissal at best and venom at worst” contributed to a “lack of critical thinking and questioning” at GIDS, which, in turn, “opened the door to all kinds of strange and illogical views about gender”.

And what about the civil service – are they at fault too, for “crushing any dissent against gender ideology”, as Sam Ashworth-Hayes puts it, thereby enabling the scandal to be “smothered” for so long? (Spiked). Writing for the Times, former Conservative Party leadership candidate, Kemi Badenoch, certainly thinks so. When she became Equalities Minister in 2020, she was told by her officials that the clinic offered “a positive medical provision to support children”. Having received correspondence on the matter, she “decided to listen to every perspective on the issue”, in spite of being “advised strongly and repeatedly by civil servants that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to speak to former Tavistock service user, Keira Bell”, a woman whom the clinic helped transition but came to regret it.

Kemi overruled the advice of her officials, and met Keira. “Her testimony was harrowing and brought many on the Zoom call to tears,” she recounts. “Keira described how, after being put on puberty blockers at the age of 16, she was given testosterone shots at 17, before her breasts were cut off at 20. Worse was the casual indifference she described from the GIDS service to her continued post-surgery wellbeing.”

In light of the interim Cass review’s findings, NHS England says it will move young people who believe they’ve been born into the wrong bodies into regional centres which will take a more “holistic” approach to treatment and look at other mental health or medical issues they may have. (Guardian). Let’s hope that the holism in question provides for the type of academic and intellectual freedom that, as Heather Brunskell-Evans points out for Spiked, dissenting parents, detransitioners, academics, medical professionals, Tavistock whistleblowers and gender-critical feminists have been denied for so many years.

The Online Safety Bill and the future of WhatsApp in the UK

Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth, said his company is seeing “governments become more aggressive in how they try to use legal tactics to unmask the people using our service” and as a way to “silence people”. (Tech Outlook). It’s a view echoed by WhatsApp CEO, Will Cathcart, who this week said his company might cease operating in the UK if the Online Safety Bill reaches the statute book in its current form. (BBC).

Mr Cathcart was talking specifically about a Government-backed amendment to the Bill. “What’s being proposed,” he said, “is that… we read everyone’s messages.” He is concerned that Ofcom may ask online service providers like WhatsApp to pursue “client-side scanning”, a controversial surveillance method whereby end-to-end encrypted communication services automatically scan private chats, messages, texts, images, videos and speech for suspicious content which is then automatically reported to the police. (BBC News). Critics say the technology could be subject to “scope creep” once it’s installed on phones and computers, so it isn’t just used to search for illegal content. (Computer Weekly).

For Mr Cathcart, the fundamental problem with client-side scanning is that it undermines WhatsApp’s unique selling point, namely, secure, end-to-end encryption. As he told the BBC’s Tech Tent podcast, “WhatsApp’s a global product. People use it… to talk across countries all the time. And so if we had to lower security for the world to accommodate a [regulatory] requirement in one country, as a business decision, that would be very foolish for us.” Would WhatsApp disable services in the UK if the newly amended Online Safety Bill passed into law?, asked the interviewer. “To date, the way we’ve worked is we’ve offered a global service and some countries choose to block it,” he replied. “I hope that never happens in a liberal democracy.”

The case for the Government’s amendment is of course that it will protect children. According to the National Crime Agency, there are between 550,000 and 850,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual risk to children, and it’s not difficult to understand why secure, end-to-end encryption might prove useful to those wishing to circulate depraved images online. That’s why Home Secretary Priti Patel has argued that “things like end-to-end encryption significantly reduce the ability for platforms to detect child sexual abuse”. (Telegraph).  

But is the amendment a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Back in 2021, Apple abandoned attempts to introduce its own client-side scanning software after 14 top computer scientists, including encryption pioneers Ron Rivest and Whit Diffie, found its plans were unworkable, open to abuse, and threatened internet security. (Tech Times). Their paper Bugs in our pockets: the risks of client-side scanning, identified 15 ways that states, malicious actors, and even targeted child abusers, could expoloit the technology to cause harm to others. (Computer Weekly). Even the UK’s own Information Commissioner’s Office has said that encrypting communications actually strengthens online safety for children by reducing their exposure to threats such as blackmail. (Guardian).

Political neutrality and the civil service

Point four in the FSU’s five-point free speech manifesto concerns workers’ rights, making the case for “stronger legal protections for workers so employees cannot be disciplined or sacked for refusing to take diversity training courses” – a great idea, of course, but one that’s unlikely to find many supporters among senior civil servants, for whom these courses hold an irresistible allure.

The Attorney General Suella Braverman revealed this week that 1,000 of her officials in her department – including 600 lawyers – have managed to clock up 1,900 hours of attendance on various diversity and inclusion training courses. (Telegraph). That’s a total of 253 working days spent listening to the “foot soldiers” of the “Diversity Industrial Complex” – as Inaya Folarin Aman put it (Telegraph) – spouting “all the usual fashionable lingo” about white fragility, white privilege and hierarchies of oppression.

According to the UK’s civil service code, any bureaucrats who are still able to find time in their crowded training schedules for advising Government ministers must remain politically impartial at all times. It’s a task which must surely be getting harder and harder – as Juliet Samuel notes (Telegraph), the “fashionable lingo” to which Inaya alludes above is often little more than “a channel for the dissemination of radical political ideas like critical race theory”, a racialised offshoot of critical theory, which, in turn, was the brainchild of the ‘Frankfurt School’, a group of 20th century cultural Marxists.

Civil servants in Ms Braverman’s Department were informed during one lecture that “not being racist isn’t enough – we must be anti-racist”, which is effectively a watered-down version of the Black Lives Matter slogan “silence is violence”. At that same session, participants were told that it was “not up to you as a white person” to tell black people whether or not a phrase was offensive and were urged to instead “educate yourself as to why the phrase is offensive and stop using it”. A useful strategy in that regard, the course suggested, would be to follow commentators “who are not white” on social media. They should start with Inaya Folarin Iman.

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As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer