Leading literary organization demonstrates negative impact of surveillance on writers

NEW YORK—The National Security Administration’s routine, comprehensive surveillance inhibits the evolution of thought and ideas, PEN American Center argues in an amicus brief submitted to a California federal court in First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA.

Writers depend on privacy to make connections, communicate with one another, experiment, and create. The government’s collection of telephone call information, including metadata, endangers the privacy that is necessary for the free exploration and exchange of ideas, and infringes upon the freedom of association and expression protected by the First Amendment.

PEN is particularly qualified to provide the Court with perspectives on the broad impact of government surveillance by drawing on the experience of its members, who include some of the most celebrated writers in the world.  A recent, groundbreaking survey commissioned by PEN shows that recent revelations of NSA surveillance have caused American writers to self-censor, avoiding research, writing, and communicating about topics that might draw government scrutiny.  As PEN explains in its brief, these chilling effects undermine the First Amendment’s fundamental protection of the right to advocate unpopular or controversial viewpoints.

“Historically, writers have played a critical role as thinkers, investigators, dissenters, and advocates for change,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center. “PEN is profoundly concerned that, because of the NSA’s metadata collection, our private communications will become cramped, our associations will become more limited, the scope of thought will shrink, and our democracy will be debased.”

PEN has waged a longstanding fight to end mass government surveillance as a co-plaintiff in Clapper v. Amnesty International. The case was closed at the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2013 after plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate that their own communications had been monitored. Edward Snowden’s recent revelations of NSA programs, however, have dramatically changed the legal landscape.

Amicus briefs, popularly known as friend-of-the-court briefs, may be accepted by courts in cases that have potential ramifications beyond the parties involved. First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf the Church and 21 other diverse membership and political advocacy organizations that claim their constitutional right to association is impeded by blanket data collection programs.


For more information, contact:
Deji Olukotun, Freedom to Write Fellow, PEN American Center, 212.334.1660, deji[at]pen.org
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director, PEN American Center, 212.334.1660, snossel[at]pen.org