surveillance cameraThe NSA and other government agencies have been in the news of late after reports of telephone, email, and other forms of anti-terrorism surveillance. As a result, writers are censoring themselves and journalists are changing the way they investigate and report on stories.

These findings come from a PEN American Center study of its member writers during October 2013. The report, Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self-Censor, reveals that 16% of writers have avoided writing or talking about specific subjects due to surveillance concerns. A lager number, 28%, have reduced or stopped social media usage and 24% have avoided discussing specific topics via email or phone.

Overall, 85% of writers who responded to the research survey claim that they are worried about government surveillance, and 73% have never been more worried about both privacy rights and freedom of the press as they are today. In fact, writers are particularly concerned about government surveillance with 76% believing that it infringes on their creative freedom.

More specifically, writers are certain or suspect that they’re already being monitored by the government:

  • 57% believe their donations and organizational affiliations have been monitored.
  • 51% believe their phone calls or emails have been monitored.
  • 49% believe their internet searches, website visits, and book purchases have been monitored.
  • 32% believe that the government has built a profile about them that diagrams their relationships and connections to other people.

Paranoia or realistic?

Keep in mind, this study surveyed members of PEN American Center who are writers. PEN American Center is an organization that works to protect freedom to write and freedom to access the writings of others, so it’s probably safe to assume that the results are skewed. The report compares the results from its survey to results from a survey of the general public conducted by Pew Research Center and found that the PEN American Center respondents were much more worried about government surveillance than the general public (66% disapproval rating for PEN American Center members vs. 44% disapproval rating for the general public). A truly random sample of writers across the country might show different results than the PEN American Center report provides. Furthermore, segmenting the results by type of writer (e.g., print news journalist, blogger, etc.) could also reveal some interesting findings.

What do you think? Leave a comment and share your thoughts on government surveillance and how it affects writers as well as the results of this study.

Image: drouu