PEN America: “The Harm Caused by Surveillance…is Unmistakable”

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EFF.orgPEN Amer­i­ca pub­lished a report this week sum­ma­riz­ing the find­ings from a recent sur­vey of 772 writ­ers around the world on ques­tions of sur­veil­lance and self-cen­sor­ship. The report, enti­tled “Glob­al Chill­ing: The Impact of Mass Sur­veil­lance on Inter­na­tion­al Writ­ers,” builds upon a late 2013 sur­vey of more than 500 US-based writ­ers con­duct­ed by the orga­ni­za­tion.

The lat­est sur­vey found that writ­ers liv­ing in lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries “have begun to engage in self-cen­sor­ship at lev­els approach­ing those seen in non-demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries, indi­cat­ing that mass sur­veil­lance has bad­ly shak­en writ­ers’ faith that demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ments will respect their rights to pri­va­cy and free­dom of expres­sion, and that—because of per­va­sive surveillance—writers are con­cerned that express­ing cer­tain views even pri­vate­ly or research­ing cer­tain top­ics may lead to neg­a­tive con­se­quences.”

Specif­i­cal­ly, more than 1 in 3 writ­ers liv­ing in “free” coun­tries (as clas­si­fied by watch­dog Free­dom House) stat­ed that they had avoid­ed speak­ing or writ­ing on a par­tic­u­lar top­ic since the Snow­den rev­e­la­tions, and only sev­en­teen per­cent of writ­ers in these coun­tries felt that the Unit­ed States offers more pro­tec­tion for free speech than their coun­tries. A whop­ping six­ty per­cent of writ­ers in West­ern Europe and fifty-sev­en per­cent in the remain­ing Five Eyes coun­tries (Aus­tralia, Cana­da, New Zealand, and the UK) think that US cred­i­bil­i­ty “has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly dam­aged for the long term” by NSA spy­ing.

PEN also asked respon­dents to share their feel­ings about sur­veil­lance in their own coun­tries, and found that in every group­ing (“Free”, “part­ly free,” and “not free” by Free­dom House stan­dards), more than sev­en­ty-five per­cent of writ­ers are “very” or “some­what” wor­ried about gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance at home.

As PEN so apt­ly states in their report, “the harm caused by sur­veil­lance to free expres­sion, free­dom of thought, and cre­ative free­dom is unmis­tak­able.” And as the find­ings demon­strate, sur­veil­lance is not sole­ly an issue of pri­va­cy, but also one of free speech, free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion, and inno­va­tion.

In their con­clu­sion, PEN calls on the US gov­ern­ment to take imme­di­ate action to reform mass sur­veil­lance. We agree. You can take action today by sign­ing our peti­tion to tell Pres­i­dent Oba­ma to amend Exec­u­tive Order 12333 to pro­hib­it mass sur­veil­lance of peo­ple around the world.