“Surveillance conducted by government authorities induces self-censorship by writers around the world.”
So says PEN America, which today released the results of a survey conducted in the fall of 2014, asking writers worldwide how their freedom of expression has been impacted by NSA surveillance. Perhaps most significantly, the survey results show that writers in countries designated “free” by the organization Freedom House are at least as worried—and in some cases, more worried—about government surveillance than writers in “non-free” countries. 75% of respondents from “free” countries told PEN they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about government surveillance.
That fear has direct impact on their work and expression: 34% said they had decided against writing on a certain topic; 42% said they had refrained from certain social media activities; 31% have avoided certain topics in phone and internet communications; and 26% have “refrained from conducting internet searches or visiting websites on topics that may be considered controversial or suspicious, or have seriously considered it.” Surveyed writers were so concerned about government spying that many of them said they were hesitant to participate in the survey, out of fear of some kind of secret action against them.
The findings come on the heels of a 2013 PEN study that examined US writers’ attitudes towards surveillance and self-censorship.