At least they’ll put it really well: A coalition of more than 500 major writers from some 81 countries has composed and signed a petition condemning the increasing violation of civilians’ privacy by state-sponsored surveillance programs.
The league of literary heavyweights—including Martin Amis, Don Delillo, Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy, Jeanette Winterson, Hanif Kureishi (and Björk thrown in for good measure)—are not just protesting but also coaxing the United Nations to intervene by drafting an international bill of digital rights to keep state agencies in check when it comes to citizens’ digital communications and other confidential information. Their inspiration came in part from Edward Snowden’s work in exposing the extent of government involvement in the personal realm.
Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Irvine Welsh, Hari Kunzru, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro are among the British authors on the list.
It also includes JM Coetzee, Yann Martel, Ariel Dorfman, Amit Chaudhuri, Roddy Doyle, Amos Oz, David Grossman, and the Russian Mikhail Shishkin.
Henning Mankell, Lionel Shriver, Hanif Kureishi and the antipodean writers CK Stead, Thomas Keneally and Anna Funder are other globally renowned signatories.
The Guardian has published a series of stories about the mass surveillance techniques of GCHQ and its US counterpart, the NSA, over the past six months; two of the most significant programmes uncovered in the Snowden files were Prism, run by the NSA, and Tempora, which was set up by GCHQ. Between them, they allow the agencies to harvest, store and analyse data about millions of phone calls, emails and search-engine queries.
Though Tuesday’s statement does not mention these programmes by name, it says the extent of surveillance revealed by Snowden has challenged and undermined the right of all humans to “remain unobserved and unmolested” in their thoughts, personal environments and communications. “This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes,” the statement adds.
“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.”
Author Arundhati Roy figures among the group of top writers who signed the anti-surveillance petition.