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Book News: Spying Concerns Driving Writers To Self-Censor, Study Finds

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by ANNALISA QUINN, for NPR

A newly released report finds that a number of American writers avoid or are considering avoiding controversial topics for fear of government surveillance.

The study was conducted last month by the PEN American Center and the FDR Group and surveyed 528 PEN members. It concludes: “Fully 85% of writers responding to PEN’s survey are worried about government surveillance of Americans, and 73% of writers have never been as worried about privacy rights and freedom of the press as they are today.”

Moreover, it finds that 16 percent have avoided writing or speaking on a particular topic and 11 percent have seriously considered it. (PEN is an organization that promotes free speech and whose members may be generally more concerned about censorship issues than other writers.) The report concludes: “Writers are self-censoring their work and their online activity due to their fears that commenting on, researching, or writing about certain issues will cause them harm. Writers reported self-censoring on subjects including military affairs, the Middle East North Africa region, mass incarceration, drug policies, pornography, the Occupy movement, the study of certain languages, and criticism of the U.S. government.”

In August, the writer William T. Vollmann brought concerns about government surveillance into the public eye with a Harper’s article in which he revealed that he had been watched by the FBI. Vollmann wrote, “I was accused, secretly. I was spied on … I have no redress. To be sure, I am not a victim; my worries are not for me, but for the American Way of Life.”

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