In the human rights and free expression communities, it is a widely shared assumption that the explosive growth and proliferating uses of surveillance technologies must be harmful—to intellectual freedom, to creativity, and to social discourse. But how exactly do we know, and how can we demonstrate, that pervasive surveillance is harming freedom of expression and creative freedom? We know—historically, from writers and intellectuals in the Soviet Bloc, and contemporaneously from writers, thinkers, and artists in China, Iran, and elsewhere—that aggressive surveillance regimes limit discourse and distort the flow of information and ideas. But what about the new democratic surveillance states?
The question of the harms caused by widespread surveillance in democracies, is underexplored. In partnership with Scottish PEN, we are conducting a survey of Scottish writers to better understand the specific ways in which awareness of far-reaching surveillance programs influences writers’ thinking, research, and writing.