Free Expression Advocates Urge End to Efforts to Compel Tech Giant to Crack Shooter’s iPhone,
Citing Pervasive Privacy and Self-Censorship Implications

NEW YORK—Apple should not be put in a position where protecting the privacy of its customers requires it to defy the law, PEN America said in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch this morning.

The letter—signed by nearly 50 of the world’s leading writers, artists, editors, and publishers including Robert Caro, Sandra Cisneros, Richard Serra, and Stephen Sondheim—urges the Justice Department to end its efforts to compel Apple to create a software that can crack the iPhone of San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan, a measure that Apple has said would compromise the security of all of its phones. Last week, a U.S. Magistrate Judge ordered Apple to help the FBI disable certain security features on the phone to give officials access to its contents as part of an ongoing investigation.

“Countering terror is as difficult and important a responsibility as any that our government shoulders,” the letter reads. “But the government has an equally weighty duty to preserve and protect our constitution and the freedoms that make this country great. The right to privacy is not an abstract or fungible good.”

In 2013 and 2015, respectively, PEN America released two-groundbreaking reports, Chilling Effects and Global Chilling, showing the impact of dragnet surveillance and other Patriot Act-driven privacy intrusions on writers and free expression in the U.S. and internationally. The studies demonstrate that knowledge that the government has the ability to track down and review virtually any personal communication or content has prompted a significant proportion of writers to engage in self-censorship, avoiding speaking or writing about particular topics for fear that the government is watching and reading.

“It is impossible to overlook the international implications of today’s debate, knowing that writers and private citizens around the world are faced with demands from authoritarian governments that invoke a counter-terror rationale—using whatever definition of ‘terror’ they may choose—to justify intrusive surveillance and wider forms of political repression,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “As an organization of writers and artists whose peers often live in fear of the prying eyes of their governments, we stand with Apple in highlighting the dangers of allowing national security concerns to override privacy interests and impinge upon freedom of expression.”

Read the full text of the letter at


Founded in 1922, PEN America is an association of 4,400 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.

Sarah Edkins, PEN America Deputy Director for Communications:, +1 (646) 779-4830