December 11, 2013

Over 500 authors from across the world speak out against state surveillance


"In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested."

“In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.”

Authors from across the world have signed a petition condemning state surveillance like that carried out by the NSA, as revealed by Edward Snowden earlier this year. Their petition, which was signed by more than 500 authors from 81 countries demands greater rights for citizens and the information that governments hold about them. The statement reads:

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored.


WE CALL ON ALL CITIZENS to stand up and defend these rights.

WE CALL ON THE UNITED NATIONS to acknowledge the central importance of protecting civil rights in the digital age, and to create an International Bill of Digital Rights.

WE CALL ON GOVERNMENTS to sign and adhere to such a convention.

The petition is the newest development in a recent outcry from organisations and individuals, including a PEN study that found authors were censoring themselves for fear of the NSA (we covered it here), The American Library Association defending the “freedom to read and research” from NSA surveillance (our thoughts, here), and internet giants such as Google and Facebook demanding a ban on mass collection of data to preserve trust in the internet. Yes, Google and Facebook still think we trust them.

Although the petition promotes a serious subject, it’s fun to look at all the names who signed it, including 5 Nobel Prize winners. Just some names on the list: Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Will Self, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Orhan Pamuk, Javier Marías, JM Coetzee, Yann Martel, Colum McCann, Colm Tóibín, Umberto Eco, Sjón, Richard Ford, Arundhati Roy, Yann Martel, Margaret Atwood, Nick Cave, László Krasznahorkai, and Bjork.

But surely the author who looms large over this petition is George Orwell. Speaking to the Guardian, Ian McEwan noted:

“Where Leviathan can, it will. The state, by its nature, always prefers security to liberty. Lately, technology has offered it means it can’t resist, means of mass surveillance that Orwell would have been amazed by. The process is inexorable – unless it’s resisted. Obviously, we need protection from terrorism, but not at any cost.”


Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.