Writers against mass surveillance

A group of writers from around the world, including Nobel laureates, have signed onto a petition calling on the world's governments to limit online surveillance. I was honored to be asked to be among the initial signatories, in good company with the likes of Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Martin Amis, Günter Grass, Pico Ayer, Will Self, Irvine Welsh, Jeanette Winterson, Lionel Shriver, Paul Auster, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, and many, many others. The petition is now open for your signature in support of a set of simple, important core principles:

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.

A Stand for Democracy in the Digital Age

Notable Replies

  1. I agree with the aims of this petition, though I am more concerned with government secrecy than government surveillance. If there is transparency, freedom of information and due process, then we can curb the worst abuses at the ballot box.

    We also have to take privacy into our own hands. If we choose service providers with encryption by default enabled, end-to-end internal encryption and client-side key storage then we can keep both government AND criminal actors at bay.

    One nitpick: we should distinguish democracy from human rights. There are plenty of historical democratic governments that had no enshrined right to privacy. It is when the government acts on that information to persecute political opponents that democracy itself is harmed.

  2. Technically speaking surveillance that is not in accord with a trial / subpoena is unconstitutional (per the 4th constitutional amendment - Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791). In layman terms, the Bill of Rights prohibits unreasonable searches and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. There will always be fear and terrorism, that is not justification.

    I do not really understand why there is a discussion concerning this. It is wrong; period.

  3. Transparently, in the bright light of day?

    That is my point. Attack secrecy, and inappropriate surveillance withers. Force them to get non-rubber-stamped warrants and require all decisions to be open to FOIA requests in 10 years and they will be much more circumspect about what they go after. I am not unconcerned about surveillance dragnets, I just believe that the focus should be on transparency. We shouldn't need a Snowden to know what the government is up to.

  4. Kimmo says:

    Well yeah, sure - just saying how it's cronyism with the swinging dicks in general, not just the media moguls... but of course, newspaper proprietors and such generally have the most leverage to turn the screws on the pollies.

    What, never heard the term 'Orwellian'?

    It's far more apt than dancing about architecture, even if the architecture in question is a dance hall.

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