Fear of Government Spying Is “Chilling” Writers’ Speech Worldwide

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Mass surveillance has “badly shaken writers’ faith that democratic governments will respect their rights to privacy and freedom of expression,” according to a January 2015 PEN America report based on the responses of 772 writers from fifty countries. Reporting for Common Dreams, Lauren McCauley has covered not only the PEN America report, but also a July 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch indicating that U.S. journalists and lawyers increasingly avoid work on potentially controversial topics due to fear of government spying.

According to the PEN America survey, 34 percent of writers in liberal democracies reported some degree of self-censorship (comapred with 61 percent of writers living in authoritarian countries, and 44 percent in semi-democratic countries). Nearly 60% of the writers from Western Europe, the U.S. and its “Five Eyes” surveillance partners (Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand) indicated that U.S. credibility “has been significantly damaged for the long term” by revelations of the U.S. government surveillance programs.

McCauley’s Common Dreams story quotes one of the conclusions from PEN America report: “If writers avoid exploring topics for fear of possible retribution, the material available to readers—particularly those seeking to understand the most controversial and challenging issues facing the world today—may be greatly impoverished.”

As of late March 2015, the corporate media have apparently ignored the PEN America report and similar, previous studies on the chilling effects of U.S. surveillance on writers of all kinds.


Lauren McCauley, “Fear of Government Spying ‘Chilling’ Writers’ Speech Worldwide,” Common Dreams, January 5, 2015 http://commondreams.org/news/2015/01/05/fear-government-spying-chilling-writers-speech-worldwide.

“Global Chilling: The Impact of Mass Surveillance on International Writers,” PEN America, January 5, 2015, http://www.pen.org/sites/default/files/globalchilling_2015.pdf.

Lauren McCauley, “Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report,” Common Dreams, July 28, 2014, http://commondreams.org/news/2014/07/28/government-surveillance-threatens-journalism-law-and-thus-democracy-report.

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