April 16, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

We are writing on behalf of the more than 3,750 members of PEN American Center, an organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, to express our concern over the pending Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) and its potential chilling effect upon writers, bloggers, and civil society.

We are grateful for your opposition to CISPA in its earlier, April 2012 form, and we especially applaud your Executive Order on Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity in February 2013, which provided a practical set of policies within the Executive Branch that respect current privacy laws and encourage civil society input. We address ourselves to you with confidence that you share our commitment to protecting the privacy necessary for creative and intellectual freedom to flourish.

Although the current version of CISPA has been improved through a series of amendments, we remain troubled by vague definitions in the text, including the term “cybersecurity purpose.” We fear this term could be interpreted broadly and result in the mass collection of information in ways that significantly infringe on privacy. We are equally concerned that the bill does not hold corporations accountable for improper information sharing; allows for information sharing with the National Security Agency; is missing meaningful independent judicial oversight; lacks a sufficiently rigorous standard to limit the impact of the act on civil society groups; and contains insufficient safeguards for Personal Identifying Information.

As an organization that for more than nine decades has monitored threats to the freedom to write around the world, PEN has seen the deleterious effects of surveillance on creative freedom in a number of countries.  Many of PEN’s most celebrated members and leaders  have been and are currently targeted by their governments’ intelligence services. Here in the United States, Richard Wright, Arthur Miller, and others among the most distinguished members in PEN American Center’s history have had their communications and correspondence monitored by United States intelligence agencies. The chilling effect of surveillance extends far beyond its individual targets, affecting all those who fear that their communications may possibly be targeted. Creative freedom, press freedom, and the free flow of information are all impinged upon when surveillance mechanisms proliferate.

In an age when digital technologies are expanding surveillance capacities exponentially in both repressive and democratic states, we believe the United States must be especially vigilant against possible incursions into the privacy necessary for intellectual and creative freedom. As a leading global champion of internet freedom, the United States has a responsibility to ensure that its own laws provide the greatest possible protection to these essential rights. We therefore urge you to veto CISPA unless the concerns we have outlined in this letter are fully addressed.


Peter Godwin

Suzanne Nossel
Executive Director

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs