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UN Privacy Resolution reflects growing anti-surveillance momentum as Writers, Tech Giants and Governments demand reform of US and UK practices

Wednesday 18 December 2013 - 11:47am

18 December 2013

The enormous growing momentum demanding legislative reform of US and UK surveillance practices must be heeded, said PEN International today.

In a week since its launch, the Writers against Mass Surveillance appeal has garnered over 170,000 signatures from writers across the globe. The appeal came the same week as the heads of the world’s leading technology companies demanded sweeping changes to surveillance laws.

Later today, the UN General Assembly is expected to adopt a Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age which constitutes an important step towards this goal.

“There is unity amongst the people of the word that mass surveillance is unacceptable”, said PEN International President, John Ralston Saul.

“We have been fighting the surveillance policies of authoritarian regimes for years. The revelations of the last six months reveal that the democracies are also guilty and that the US and the UK are among the primary violators of the right to privacy of individuals at home and abroad. They must take urgent legislative steps to protect this basic right.”

Systematic mass surveillance, with the threats it poses to free speech and privacy, is one of the fundamental human rights issues of our time. PEN has responded to these threats to with the PEN International Declaration on Digital Freedom, in our research on the impact of surveillance on writers around the world, and in launching legal challenges in the UK and US over those governments’ surveillance activities.

Over the coming year, PEN International will continue to support the Writers Against Mass Surveillance Appeal in line with our current work on surveillance. PEN International has worked extensively, not just on surveillance, but on all issues affecting writers and digital technologies. For further information on our research, policy, and advocacy, please see our web section on Digital Freedom here and the resources on the impact of surveillance on freedom of expression listed below.


Under the name Writers Against Mass Surveillance, a group of authors, many of them PEN members inspired by PEN’s Declaration on Digital Freedom, launched an open letter on 10 December demanding that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy. Countless internationally recognised authors have signed the appeal, including Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, Elfriede Jelinek, Günter Grass and Tomas Tranströmer; Margaret Atwood, John Ralston Saul, Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Daniel Kehlmann, Nawal El Saadawi, Arundhati Roy, Henning Mankell, Richard Ford, Javier Marias, Björk, David Grossman, Arnon Grünberg, Angeles Mastretta, Juan Goytisolo, Nuruddin Farah, Nick Cave, João Ribeiro, Victor Erofeyev, Liao Yiwu, David Malouf, and Umberto Eco.

For more information or if you have any questions about this work please contact Sarah Clarke, International Policy and Advocacy Officer, on or Sahar Halaimzai, Communications and Campaigns Officer, on

Resources on Surveillance:

PEN Declaration on Digital Freedom (2012)
PEN Resolution on Surveillance (2013)
The Rise of Digital Repression: A PEN Interactive report (2013)
Chilling Effects: NSA Drives U.S. writers to self-censor (2013)