Nobel Prize-Winning Writers Say NSA Surveillance Power 'Is Being Systemically Abused

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  • Nobel Prize-Winning Writers Say NSA Surveillance Power 'IsBeing Systemically Abused'

    Some of the world's most famous writers have signed an open appeal against the National SecurityAgency that says the U.S. government's mass surveillance chills freedom of thought.

    Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, Elfriede Jelinek, G?nter Grass and Tomas Transtr?merare among hundreds of "writers against mass surveillance" worldwide who have signed the openappeal, which calls on governments and corporations to respect citizens' privacy rights.

    "Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion," theappeal says. "As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused."

    Other notable signers include Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, Umberto Eco, Yann Martel, DaveEggers, Colum McCann, Sapphire, Ian McEwan, and Don DeLillo. In Europe the appeal was releasedon Tuesday -- Human Rights Day.

    The writers' statement asks the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights. TheU.S., along with surveillance partners that include the United Kingdom and Australia, have sought toweaken a U.N. resolution that would express support for digital privacy.

    "We are really very worried about mass surveillance," said Janne Teller, a Danish writer who helpedorganize the open message. "We think it's undermining democracy totally, and we are shocked thatmore people aren't up in arms about it,"

    Teller said she doesn't believe writers are threatened more than ordinary citizens by masssurveillance, but their work makes them particularly attuned to its dangers.

  • "I think it's quite significant when you have 560 or so of the greatest contemporary writers, from allacross the world, expressing a very serious concern, because these are people who always work onthe big philosophical questions of life," Teller said. "Hopefully their concern matters to politicians."

    Last month, the writers' rights group PEN released survey resultsthat found a "chilling effect" from disclosures of the NSA's masssurveillance. American writers polled by the group said they haveavoided mentioning controversial topics and criticizing thegovernment.

    Teller, who lives in New York, said she hopes Americans will jointhe writers' outrage over mass surveillance by adding their namesto a public version of the appeal.

    "This undermines all the freedoms and values that I otherwise love about America," Teller said. "So Ican't understand why Americans can accept mass surveillance in this way, it's totally against thefreedom ideals."

    Read the full document, "A Stand for Democracy in the Digital Age," below. A full list of signatoriesis available here.

    In recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common knowledge. With a few clicksof the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your e-mail, your social networking andInternet searches. It can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership withInternet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can predict your consumption andbehaviour.

    The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extendsbeyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications,all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.

    This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technologicaldevelopments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.

    A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.

    * Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion.

  • * Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It overturns one of our historicaltriumphs, the presumption of innocence.

    * Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate insecret. As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused.

    * Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predictour behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democraticliberty.

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

    WE CALL ON ALL STATES ANDCORPORATIONS to respect these rights.

    WE CALL ON ALL CITIZENS to stand up anddefend these rights.

    WE CALL ON THE UNITED NATIONS to acknowledge the central importance of protecting civilrights 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.

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