A recently released survey of American writers conducted by PEN America Center in October found that government surveillance is having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
PEN surveyed over 500 US writers about the impact of NSA surveillance revelations on their work and found that self-censorship is rampant due to anxieties about being spied on. Those surveyed admitted to purposely steering clear of writing, speaking about and even researching certain topics. Subjects being avoided relate to military affairs, the Middle East and North Africa, mass incarceration, drug policies, pornography, the Occupy movement, the study of certain languages, and criticism of the US government, all issues in desperate need of sunlight. But self-censorship guarantees that investigative journalism on topics such as these will be hampered.
From the report:
- 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.
In countries with outright tyrannical regimes, it’s the government that does the censoring, whereas the US government has managed to get writers to do the legwork for them.
In a nation that prides itself on free speech, this should be cause for alarm. So where is the outrage?