Surveillance changes the way we express ourselves and threatens to stifle free expression around the world. Join us in opposing mass surveillance.

“What surveillance really is, at its root, is a highly effective form of social control. The knowledge of always being watched changes our behaviour & stifles dissent. The inability to associate secretly means there is no longer any possibility for free association. The inability to whisper means there is no longer any speech that is truly free of coercion, real or implied. Most profoundly, pervasive surveillance threatens to eliminate the most vital element of both democracy & social movements: the mental space for people to form dissenting & unpopular views.”


The impact of surveillance on free expression is well documented; the perception of surveillance severely undermines the ability to communicate freely. In 2013 following the Snowden revelations, PEN America commissioned a survey of their membership to understand the impact of governmental surveillance on their writing.

“1 in 6 writers have avoided writing or speaking on a topic they thought would subject them to surveillance”

This was confirmed by a global survey undertaken by PEN International that stated: “writers living in liberal democratic countries have begun to engage in self-censorship at levels approaching those seen in non-democratic countries.”

Beyond this there has been research outlining the impact of surveillance on online wikipedia research and the airing of minority viewpoints and ideas on online communications platforms.

Surveillance undermines the ability of individuals to write, research and communicate and so represents a distinct threat to free expression. Without public debate on this vital issue, our ability to communicate and express ourselves freely will be stifled.

Investigatory Powers Bill

This bill was introduced in 2015 by then-Home Secretary, Theresa May to modernise and consolidate surveillance legislation in the UK. Scottish PEN has been highly critical of the bill from day one and core concerns remain as to its impact on our fundamental freedoms including free expression and the right to privacy.

The bill’s powers include:

  • Internet Connection Records (ICRs) – the retention of ICRs of every British citizen for 12 months by Internet Service Providers that can be accessed without a warrant by a range of public authorities. ICRs are a record of every website we visit and every smart phone app we access – they contain the source URL of every site visited i.e. not
  • Equipment Interference (EI) – Government hacking that enables the intelligence services to access a device, system or network to obtain encrypted files, passwords and data; remotely control devices; gain access to further networks & devices; and potentially destroy devices.
  • National Security and Technical Capability Notices – The method by which the Government will impose “requirements” and obligations on tech companies, to ensure that they can carry out equipment interference, interception and mass data retention on the Government’s behalf.
  • Bulk Powers – for Interception and Equipment Interference powers, bulk powers enable the state to intercept data and hack devices, systems and networks internationally en mass when the target is unknown and necessity and proportionality cannot be clearly determined. If data of UK citizens is collected or accessed through EI, a warrant is required.
  • Bulk Personal Datasets – These are databases and registers that contain information on a large group of people. These will be accessed, held and used by the intelligence agencies to make connections about who we are, what we do and who we know. These may include the electoral roll, HMRC tax returns and sporting events ticket lists.

For the latest draft of the full bill click here

Scottish PEN submitted written evidence to Parliament, read below:

Scottish PEN was also quoted by the Joint Bill Committee in their report on the bill. It can be viewed here (pg. 118)

We are campaigning for increased public involvement in this bill and calling for the bill to be brought in line with human rights protections before the bill is made law by the end of 2016.

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