Dear Members and Supporters,

PEN American Center has been invited to submit an amicus curiae (“Friend of the Court”) brief in support of a lawsuit challenging the recently-disclosed National Security Agency telephone metadata collection program.

You can read about the lawsuit here and here, and read the Complaint here.

In our brief, we want to concentrate specifically on the impact of surveillance on free expression and creative freedom, drawing on the long and rich history of literature on the subject. Time is short, and WE NEED YOUR HELP!

We are asking all PEN Members and supporters to:

1. Search your memories and your bookshelves for quotes and passages from literature that illuminate the dangers surveillance regimes pose for writers and creative and intellectual freedom. Non-fiction passages slightly preferred, but we welcome passages from imaginative literature as well (some samples we’ve already gathered appear at the end of this page)

2. Copy those passages with citation information (Author and title of work) and send them in an email message to Please type out the passage or copy and paste the text into the body of the email (from Googlebooks, etc.), or simply scan and attach a copy of the passage as a .pdf file, etc.

3. Send us this message by close of business on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

This is an incredible opportunity for PEN to develop and present our best argument for why the recent revelations of NSA spying are disturbing to writers, and we cannot do this without your help.

A few sample passages and quotes:

From Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Cancer Ward:

As every man goes through life he fills in a number of forms for the record, each containing a number of questions…. There are thus hundreds of little threads radiating from every man, millions of threads in all. If these threads were suddenly to become visible, the whole sky would look like a spider’s web, and if they materialized like rubber bands, buses and trams and even people would lose the ability to move and the wind would be unable to carry torn-up newspapers or autumn leaves along the streets of the city….

They are not visible, they are not material, but every man is constantly aware of their resistance….Each man, permanently aware of his own threads, naturally develops a respect for the people who manipulate the threads.”

From Kate Millet’s The Politics of Cruelty (1994)

Technology is of the essence. It is what distinguishes modern from earlier despotic conditions. Technology completes, even perfects the powers assumed by government, brings them toward an omnipotence previously imagined only in connection with the deity. The state now aspires to the condition of divine power, as its citizens, every day more subject, are inspired to fear and accept it with the unquestioning awe they once felt for God.

Omnipresent, God hears everything. How can this be translated into technological surveillance? The telephone is not without possibilities-given the power inherent in the control of transportation, information, and communications. Telephone records can be made available to the state that list all numbers called in or out, combined with the capacity to tap or listen in and record telephone conversations. If one were to add to this a means of identifying voices scientifically, as is the case with fingerprints, then powers of surveillance and therefore power itself would be much increased.

From “The FBI’s 15-year Campaign to Ferret Out Norman Mailer,” Washington Post, November 11, 2008:

Agents questioned his friends, scoured his passport file, thumbed through his best-selling books and circulated his photo among informants. They kept records on his appearances at writers’ conferences, talk shows and peace rallies. They noted the volume of envelopes in his mailbox and jotted down who received his Christmas cards. They posed as his friend, chatted with his father and more than once knocked on his door disguised as deliverymen.

From Karl Jasper’s “The Fight Against Totalitariansism”:

The fighting man sometimes comes to resemble his adversary. If in the struggle against totalitarianism, one uses totalitarian methods, one imperceptibly alters the shape of one’s cause. In the struggle against a monster, one can become a monster oneself. In such a case, even if one scores a victory, the battle is lost because a kingdom of monsters is created for oneself. Were it to happen that the external thing one fights ruins one internally, the struggle would have no meaning.

PEN on Surveillance:

PEN Protests Shocking NSA Surveillance
Surveillance and International Law
Campaign for Reader Privacy Renews Call to Amend Patriot Act
PEN International Calls for Investigation into Surveillance and Human Rights
PEN Appears Before Supreme Court
PEN Decries Supreme Court Surveillance Decision
PEN Case Studies in Digital Freedom: Surveillance
Julian Sanchez: On Fiction and Surveillance
From Prospero to Prism: 5 Questions about Surveillance and Literature with David Rosen and Aaron Santesso