Despite its obvious potential for oppression, for the first twenty years or so of its existence the Malicious Communications Act 1988 did not seem to do much harm. At least, if it did, I did not read about it. If I am wrong on this, tell me, but on the few occasions that I heard about prosecutions under the Act they seemed to be cases like this one where a man sent out emails purporting to be from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the aftermath of the 2005 tsunami falsely telling people that their relatives had been killed. That is certainly fraud, and something like assault, and I would argue that it is not a freedom of speech issue. “Malicious communication” seems a fair description.
You are not safe just because a monster sleeps. Circa 2006 the government rediscovered the Act and decided to give it some exercise. In the period 2006-2010 the number of people against whom proceedings were launched followed this pattern: 182, 251, 329, 507, 694.
The latest? Here is a story from the BBC: ‘Canterbury man arrested over burning poppy image’. He is not a Muslim apparently, and it is another reflection of the decline of free speech that my assumption that the BBC’s unnamed “Canterbury man” was left unnamed to conceal him being a Muslim was a perfectly reasonable one. In fact Linford House, 19, is a non-Muslim, white rugger bugger.
There is a good article by Ally Fogg in the Guardian: Arrested for poppy burning? Beware the tyranny of decency.