75% of writers in free countries self-censor due to fears of mass surveillance

There’s a worldwide war on free speech. Despite 1.5 million who marched under the banner of free expression in France, 54 people have been arrested for online comments. The UK wants encryption outlawed and backdoors in apps to be mandatory. CISPA is back in the US. 75% of journalists in democratic countries already self-censor due to fears of mass surveillance.

There’s a worldwide war on free speech and 75% of writers in democratic countries already self-censor due to fears of mass surveillance.

The situation is getting worse, not better according to the recent PEN America report “Global Chilling: The Impact of Mass Surveillance on International Writers” (pdf). After 772 writers from 50 countries completed an online survey, PEN found that the results demonstrate “the damaging impact of surveillance by the United States and other governments on free expression and creative freedom around the world.”

“Vast majorities of writers around the world said they were ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried about levels of government surveillance in their countries,” which directly affected what they wrote about, their online communications and even phone conversations. According to PEN’s Global Chilling report, 75% of writers in “free” countries, 84% in countries classified as “partly free,” and 80% in “not free” countries are concerned about government surveillance. The decision of whether or not a country is “free” was based on NGO watchdog Freedom House’s 2014 world map of freedom

“Ongoing revelations of the broad scope of government surveillance programs in many democracies continue to fuel fear over surveillance and its impact on free expression," PEN wrote. "The levels of self-censorship reported by writers living in democratic countries are approaching the levels reported by writers living in authoritarian or semi-democratic countries. Concern about surveillance is now nearly as high among writers living in democracies (75%) as among those living in non-democracies (80%)."

The EFF pointed out:

More than 1 in 3 writers living in "free" countries stated that they had avoided speaking or writing on a particular topic since the Snowden revelations, and only 17% of writers in these countries felt that the United States offers more protection for free speech than their countries. A whopping 60% of writers in Western Europe and 57% in the remaining Five Eyes countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK) think that US credibility “has been significantly damaged for the long term” by NSA spying.

Former CBS investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson claimed the government hacked into her computer and her phone, spying on her online accounts and Skype audio calls. She claims that three examinations of her devices revealed sophisticated malware with "remote capabilities." An unnamed security expert said the "perpetrators had hacking skills 'far beyond the abilities of even the best non-government hackers'.” Not all security experts believe the government was responsible, but she is suing the federal government for $35 million.

Whether or not that hack was a result of government surveillance of a journalist, fear of mass surveillance is changing the way journalists would normally report on leaks and other hot issues. On the basis of the survey findings, PEN urged “the newly seated U.S. Congress to put reform of mass surveillance programs that violate constitutional and international human rights at the top of its to-do list.”

Free speech Newtown grafitti

But what do we get instead? CISPA is back; the UK is pushing to make backdoors in software mandatory or it will ban the apps. And despite millions of people marching in Paris under a banner of free expression – arrests for free expression.

CISPA is back: Sacrificing more online privacy may additionally chill free speech

Despite the White House criticizing “CISPA in 2013 for potentially facilitating the unnecessary transfer of personal information to the government or other private sector entities when sending cybersecurity threat data,” CISPA is back. The Obama administration introduced an updated cybersecurity information-sharing proposal, but CISPA (pdf) won’t prevent another Sony hack. There’s no reason to sacrifice more of our online privacy to obtain better cybersecurity.

The ACLU warned, “Before we give the government more power to collect our private information, we must deal with the suspicionless surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden.”

The ACLU and Human Rights Watch released a report last summer titled “With Liberty to Monitor All: How large-scale US surveillance is harming journalism, law and American democracy” (pdf). Journalists were increasingly avoiding controversial subjects due to fears of government spying, making less meaningful information reach the public, which undermines holding leaders accountable and threatens the core of democracy. "It's a terrible time to be covering government," said NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten.

UK wants to force backdoors in software for surveillance

Backdoors Anders Ljungberg

Since the Charlie Hebdo attack, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that if re-elected, he will push for legislation that ensures there will  be “no means of communication" which "we cannot read." Yes that means requiring backdoors in online communications, but is also “applied whether you are sending a letter, whether you are making a phone, whether you are using a mobile phone, or whether you are using the Internet.”

France arrests 54 people for comments after march supporting free expression

France, which is listed as a “free” country in regard to political rights and civil liberties, arrested controversial French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala as an “apologist for terrorism” due to a comment he posted on Facebook.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, he attended a unity march under the banner of free expression “that brought more than 1.5 million people onto the streets of Paris.” Afterwards, he posted on Facebook, “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” The comment, which has since been deleted, merged “the names of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper where two gunmen massacred 12 people, with that of Amedy Coulibaly, who prosecutors say killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket.” An investigation for “defending terrorism” was opened on Monday, followed by his arrest on Wednesday.

France is “cracking down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism,” reported The Associated Press. In the last week, 54 people have been arrested for making comments that investigators believe "condone terrorism."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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