On Surveillance and Self-Censorship

By:  Daniel Nardini

  Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary
                          The well-known international writers’ organization, PEN International, came out with a report stating that due to surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), many American writers are beginning to self-censor themselves. So many writers, from journalists to fiction and non-fiction book writers, have become concerned about their privacy as a result of leaks by the U.S. defector Edward Snowden. In a survey done on many writers in the United States, PEN International found that as much as 85 percent of all writers will now self-censor themselves even in private e-mails, blogs and in newspaper articles.
                            Also according to the PEN International report, 73 percent of all Americans writers are now concerned that their privacy rights and correspondence is being violated by either the NSA or some other U.S. government agency. Many fear that the information gathered may be used against them, or that it could reveal what so many writers, like so many people, want to keep private to themselves or with those they can trust. The main problem I see here is that in an effort to fight everything from terrorism to domestic crime, the NSA, as well as so many other agencies, have trouble drawing the line where electronic surveillance of possible terrorist and criminal suspects ends and where simple private conversations between individuals begins.
                         With new technologies comes what I call trying to find a legal balancing act, a line drawn in the sand. While I can understand how many people feel about being “spied” upon, the opposite side of the coin is that the U.S. government fears an attack or plans to conduct one. And attacks against the United States can be planned out well in advance or could happen in a very short period. We simply do not know. The great danger here is when one boundary of U.S. government surveillance looking for a possible criminal or terror act crosses the line with peoples’ privacy.
                             Because so many American writers fear their privacy is being violated, as much as 24 percent of all writers are now considering cutting out or curtailing their writing. My only comment to all of this is that I will not stop writing, nor will I self-censor myself. The U.S. Constitution is still on my side, and so is the court system. Even if our judicial system may grant leeway in regards to government surveillance, the judiciary is also the greatest weapon against this surveillance going too far. For this, I urge all writers to not self-censor themselves, and to use what legal tools are at our disposal to fight to draw a line where the U.S. government can and cannot cross. I am also hopeful that those individuals within this government are just as equally mindful of what limitations there should be in preserving Americans’ constitutional rights.

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