A stand for democracy in the digital age

English PEN is pleased to support Writers Against Mass Surveillance, an international appeal signed by more than 500 writers from around the world and published on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2013. 

The full text of the appeal follows:

In recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common knowledge. With a few clicks of the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your e-mail, your social networking and Internet searches. It can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership with Internet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can predict your consumption and behaviour.

The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.

This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.

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.

  • Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion.
  • Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It overturns one of our historical triumphs, the presumption of innocence.
  • Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused.
  • Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored.


WE CALL ON ALL CITIZENS to stand up and defend these rights.

WE CALL ON THE UNITED NATIONS to acknowledge the central importance of protecting civil rights in the digital age, and to create an International Bill of Digital Rights.

WE CALL ON GOVERNMENTS to sign and adhere to such a convention.

The above appeal has been signed by more than 500 writers from around the world. Signatories include five Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, Elfriede Jelinek, Günter Grass and Tomas Tranströmer, and prominent international writers including Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Arundhati Roy, Björk, Nick Cave, and Umberto Eco. English PEN would like to invite all our members to join as further signatories. If you are interested in adding your name, please send an email to George-Orwell@mail.com, including your first and last name and nationality.

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4 Comments on “A stand for democracy in the digital age”

  1. Please forward
    Published 18 March 2013
    National Security Agency (NSA) Whistleblower Thomas Drake
    speaks at National Press Club – (1:02:55)
    Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive with the Secret Service at NSA,
    was charged under the espionage act after he unmasked the waste, fraud
    and illegal activity at the intelligence agency, spoke at a March 15, 2013
    National Press Club luncheon. This crucial event was part of the club’s
    celebration of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to underscore
    the importance of open government and freedom of information.

    In 2011, Drake was awarded the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling and was
    co-recipient of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII)
    award. Accepting the SAAII award he said, with references to an 1857 speech
    of Frederick Douglass:
    “Power and those in control concede nothing … without a demand. They never
    have and they never will. …each and every one of us must keep demanding,
    must keep fighting, must keep thundering, must keep plowing, must keep on
    keeping things struggling, must speak out and must speak up until justice
    is served because where there is no justice there can be no peace.”

    Drake includes the ominous warning of John F. Kennedy’s 1963
    Speech about Secret Societies and the Dark Side of America (5:23)

  2. I am an Ahwazi Arab writer and journalist from Iran, member of Iranian Writers Association and English Pen, have escaped from the tyranny of the mullahs and had suffered from extensive mass surveillance and censorship as Iranian, and national and racial oppression as none Persian, support the appeal of “Writers Against Mass Surveillance”. Please add my name as signatory.
    Yousef Azizi (Benitorof)

    1. I am an Ahwazi Arab writer and journalist from Iran, member of Iranian Writers Association and English Pen, have escaped from the tyranny of the mullahs support the appeal of Writers Against Mass Surveillance. Please add my name as signatory.
      Yousef Azizi (Benitorof)

  3. everything that is going on in the Middle East but if we stand still and let it happen and not do anything as someone who is living in America and was supposed to be doing surveillance of everybody even those around the world but still so nothing where our own worst enemies and being passive will even make him stronger and that’s why we had 9/11 America had planes that were attacked American embassies that were attacked and did nothing and so that made the enemy stronger against those they don’t respect and their religion does not meet up to in this will keep on going on because strength respects strength and not weakness, and I am not after war I am after showing strength against those it would want to rise up against you or those countries the country have aligned themselves with. Sincerely yours Andrew Ellis

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