A new survey conducted by a leading literary organization finds that the recent revelations of pervasive spying on American citizens have had a chilling effect on the intellectual freedom, creativity and social discourse of American writers.
The PEN American Center, a nonprofit literary group, partnered with the FDR Group to produce the report titled “Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self-Censor,” which notes that 85 percent of writers expressed worries about the government’s ongoing surveillance of American citizens. Seventy-three percent of respondents said that they “have never been as worried about privacy rights and freedom of the press as they are today.”
The report also notes:
–28% have curtailed or avoided social media activities, and another 12% have seriously considered doing so;
–24% have deliberately avoided certain topics in phone or email conversations, and another 9% have seriously considered it;
–16% have avoided writing or speaking about a particular topic, and another 11% have seriously considered it;
–16% have refrained from conducting Internet searches or visiting websites on topics that may be considered controversial or suspicious, and another 12% have seriously considered it;
–13% have taken extra steps to disguise or cover their digital footprints, and another 11% have seriously considered it;
–3% have declined opportunities to meet (in person, or electronically) people who might be deemed security threats by the government, and another 4% have seriously considered it.
Writer comments on the matter included statements like: “I assume everything I do electronically is subject to monitoring.”
And: “I feel that increased government surveillance has had a chilling effect on my research, most of which I do on the Internet. This includes research on issues such as the drug wars and mass incarceration, which people don’t think about as much as they think about foreign terrorism, but is just as pertinent.”
A similar chilling of creative expression and research by U.S. writers and journalists occurred after the passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which included provisions allowing the Federal government to detain indefinitely any citizen suspected of aiding foreign terrorist organizations. The Act sparked a lawsuit by activists and reporters — including such notable names as Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Wolf and Daniel Ellsberg — who claimed a section of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama in December, could give the Federal government legal powers to detain any dissident voices.