​Mass surveillance breeds self-censorship in democracies - report

Reuters / Jason Reed
A study published by a top US literary organization on Monday, found that an increasing number of writers in democratic countries are censoring themselves due to fears about government surveillance.

The study entitled “Global chilling: The impact of Mass Surveillance on International Writers” surveyed 772 writers in 50 countries and concluded that writers and journalists are self-censoring for fear of reprisal.

A similar report published in November 2013 found that writers were “worried about mass surveillance, and were engaged in multiple forms of self-censorship as a result.”

A full report from writers around the world will be issued in the spring of 2015. As writers are considered to be the “canaries in the coalmine” therefore they are likely to give an accurate picture of the impact of surveillance on privacy and freedom of expression.

Writers living in democratic countries were found to be nearly as concerned as those living in non-democratic states with long histories of mass surveillance.

It found that while 61 percent of writers living in the countries labeled as ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House avoided writing or speaking about a certain topic because of government surveillance this was now true of 34 percent of writers in ‘Free’ countries.

Reuters / Kieran Doherty

“Writers are concerned that expressing certain views even privately or researching certain topics may lead to negative consequences,” the study concluded.

It also found that writers outside the US shared many of the same fears and uncertainties, particularly in the countries in the Five Eyes alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US.

One respondent said he “hesitated – and thought to answer very honestly – these questions.”

There was also a sharp decline in how writers viewed the US as a haven for free expression, with 36 percent of writers surveyed in so-called ‘Free’ countries believing that their own country offers better protection for freedom of expression than the US.

The Pen document ends with recommendations that the US government stops dragnet monitoring and the collection of US citizen’s communications. It also advises that collection of digital metadata be suspended and advises greater judicial, legislative and executive oversight of US intelligence agency programs.

It also pointed out that the US has to respect the privacy and rights to free expression of foreign citizens either in or out of the US.

"As the United Nations has repeatedly stated, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the US is a party, requires it to respect the human rights to privacy and free expression of all individuals affected by its surveillance programs," the report says.