Wigtown Book Festival: Big Brother’s Bookcase

Wigtown Book Festival celebrates the power of the written word but Scottish PEN is deeply concerned about how unwarranted and suspicionless surveillance can undermine the ability of novelists, poets and playwrights to express themselves free from coercion or duress.

Whether the fictional dystopias of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s landmark 1984, or the imagined lives of those under the state’s gaze as seen in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale or Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, surveillance has been well-represented in modern literature. But in the Wigtown Book Festival marquee on the 24th September Scottish PEN are going to explore how closely fiction imitates life with a discussion on the Investigatory Powers Bill with former chairman of the Intelligence & Security Committee, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, and journalist and former MSP Dorothy-Grace Elder.

Are these bulk powers safe in the hands of those who tell us they will only use them for good? Is it worth sacrificing privacy for national security? Are we engaged in a fight between fundamental freedoms and security? These are just a few questions we need to look to in the age of suspicionless surveillance, an age ushered in by the IP Bill, which is currently racing through parliament.

In the age of big data, bulk collection and surveillance, how people feel able to express themselves, communicate and operate online, without revealing too much of their personal self is an ever-growing challenge. But with threats of terrorism and other non-state violence, as well as the use of digital platforms to support serious crime, what tools should be made available to the state to keep people safe? Our session will look to explore this balancing act, discussing what role surveillance should play in our society and what that means for free expression across the UK.

Wigtown Book Festival celebrates the power of the written word but Scottish PEN is deeply concerned about how unwarranted and suspicionless surveillance can undermine the ability of novelists, poets and playwrights to express themselves free from coercion or duress. Research undertaken by PEN America and PEN International showed that the perception of surveillance encourages writers to self-censor themselves, with one in six writers in the US avoiding writing or speaking on a topic they thought would subject them to surveillance. Ensuring there is debate and dialogue on this important issue is a vital step towards ensuring laws can protect both security and human rights.

So if you have ever felt watched, felt the hairs on the back of your next prickle, this is the session for you. We look to discuss the impact of surveillance on the written word and whether we, in fact, have nothing to fear, if we have nothing to hide.

If you’re going to be at Wigtown Book Festival this year, we would love to see you at this event. You can buy tickets here: http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/programme/4642/5808