Report points to chilling effects of US surveillance practices, including fear and self-censorship

NEW YORK—As reported in the New York Times today, PEN American Center released a first-of-its-kind report, Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self-Censor.

The report, based on a survey of over 500 American writers, offers proof that the explosive growth and proliferating uses of surveillance technologies are impinging upon freedom of expression and creative freedom.

“As an organization dedicated to advocating for the freedom of expression both in the U.S. and abroad, we have long known that aggressive surveillance regimes in places like the Soviet Bloc, China, Iran, and elsewhere have cramped discourse and narrowed the flow of information and ideas,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN American Center. “The report PEN American Center is launching today shows that recently disclosed U.S. surveillance practices are having a tangible and chilling effect on writers here at home.”

The findings in Chilling Effects are based on a survey of writers conducted in October 2013 and thus offer the first tangible evidence that new revelations of mass government surveillance are harming freedom of expression in the United States. Among its major findings, Chilling Effects shows that not only are American writers more worried than ever about being the target of government surveillance practices, but that a significant portion of writers are engaging in self-censorship by avoiding research on certain controversial topics, choosing not to engage in sensitive conversations, and declining to pursue particular topics and stories when doing so might lead to scrutiny by the U.S. government.

“Freedom of expression is under pressure and, as a result, freedom of information is at risk as well,” Nossel said. “Fully 85% of writers responding to PEN’s survey are worried about government surveillance of Americans. A smaller percentage are already engaging in self-censorship as a result. Although this report is the only the beginning of a broader investigation into the harms of surveillance, its results should concern all those who value the tradition of free expression in the United States and are committed to protecting it.”

Please visit the following link to download a full copy of the report Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self-Censor:


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is a nationwide alliance of 3,800 writers working to bring down barriers to free expression.


CONTACT: Sarah Edkins, PEN American Center, 212.334.1660 x 116, [email protected];
Gabriela Domenzain, The Raben Group, 202.587.4930, [email protected]