By Sue Udry Imagine American culture without Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? How about Angels in America, cotton candy on a rainy day, The World According to Garp, or the Series of Unfortunate Events? Next time someone shrugs off mass surveillance with the maddening “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why worry?” mention a few of those works, or any other work of art, and ask if your interlocutor would miss them. Because in a surveillance state, art withers.
But you don’t need to take my word for it, because today, Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Nikki Giovanni, John Irving, Lemony Snicket as well as Don DeLillo, John Green, Rachel Kushner, and twenty other leading American writers joined PEN American Center in an open letter to the Senate leadership demanding National Security Administration reform on the premise that mass surveillance is censorship.
Mass surveillance invades our private thoughts and lives, chilling speech and spreading fear and mistrust throughout a society.
The letter notes that it’s been over a year since we learned of the NSA’s bulk collection of our phone records and other mass surveillance programs and declares, “Congress must act now to protect our freedom to speak, think, write, and create freely—and in private.” The letter specifically endorses the USA Freedom Act, or any other legislative vehicle that will:
- Clearly and definitively ends bulk collection of all communications metadata;
- Creates an independent special advocate for the FISA Court to press for the protection of civil liberties during the Court’s proceedings;
- Ends dragnet collection of international communications, and respects the privacy rights of non-U.S. citizens;
- Strengthens transparency provisions allowing private companies to disclose information about government orders received.