The foundation of freedom speech is primarily to protect the individual. This need could be protection against another individual, a group, an authoritarian administration or a tyrant. This could be extended to a other real and potential threats from the physical world. In this way it becomes a “warning cry”.
As discussed elsewhere, at times a conflict arises between the needs of the group and the needs of the individual. By extension, the quandary might arise as to whether to protect the individual by freedom of speech, or to protect the group, also by freedom of speech. This dilemma has recently been emphasized by the call to inhibit the spread of information by Web search engines.
Therefore the role of the Web search engine needs to be dissected.
The role of the Web In a world where crowding is increasing and with that its potentially dangerous cohort, anonymity, it can be forcefully argued that the Web offers the only possible solution to many threats to the individual either by the group, or other individuals. Therefore, this form of “freedom of speech” needs to be protected as assiduously as the protection by any constitutional or legal right of proclamation or redress. Thus any censorship of the Web needs to be recognized as a threat diminishing the protection of the individual.
However, not to be forgotten are parallel mechanisms (of greater or lesser applicability), designed to protect the individual, such as national constitutions, or forms of legal redress. Both of these are cumbersome, expensive, and about which the individual might perhaps be unaware. Therefore despite the existence of these (sometimes crude and ineffective) mechanisms, the accessibility of the Web makes it profoundly important for individual protection.
At times various groups will also aim to protect themselves. One example is the judicial system, which has the capacity to protect itself, sometimes with vicious oppression. This is demonstrated in the law relating to contempt of Court. The purpose of that legislation is to protect, the status and authority (and authoritarianism) of the legal (and primary judicious) systems. The legal system is frequently “wrong” in its judgments and conclusions, and it could therefore be argued that the Web should be allowed to become a counterpoise to the legal system.
If it is accepted that there might be a conflict between the needs of an individual and the needs of society then it is important to consider the same potential conflict between the individual and a variety of groups within society. That group could be a commercial enterprise, a professional body or an administration. Each of these is often in a position to inflict unfair or damaging authority and control upon an individual.
Therefore, in considering the balance between the individual and the group, for the most part the bias must be towards the protection of the individual.
There can, of course, be times when an individual poses a threat to a social group. An example could be a criminal or psychopath, who has the potential to damage many other individuals, and about which society needs to know in order to protect its members.
Another area of concern is where parallel mechanisms of protection of the individual exist, but yet their application on the Web threatens the individual. For example the publication of court Rolls. By definition this records a conflict. However, it is part of an established mechanism for resolution of conflict, and legal efficacy must be assumed, and allowed the latitude to act out its machinery independently. Therefore it can be strongly argued that similar entities such as the publication of insolvencies or debtors should not be permitted to persist indefinitely on the Web, since it is likely that the issues would have been resolved. If left on the w\Web there is a danger that misinterpretation of these processes could occur by the publication by these lists.
Where smaller groups, such as professional bodies or commercial enterprises are in conflict with individual needs, the bias must always lie with the individual. The reason is that these bodies have powerful mechanisms, and powerful incentives, to protect themselves from criticism. Yet, the only defence that the loan individual might have against such bodies is to express concern (and plead for support) via the Web.
Therefore, if “rules” are to be established (and this is not to be encouraged because individual variations prevail) any conflict between an individual and a vested-group should be biased towards the individual, and require strong reasons for a group-interest complaint to be annulled. The primary criterion in this form of censorship must always be the protection of the individual against threat, whether this originates from other individuals, groups, or external physical phenomena.