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Resolution on Surveillance. Submitted by American PEN and English PEN

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 79th World Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, 9th to 12th September 2013

In recent years, there has been a series of deeply troubling revelations concerning secret United States governmental programmes that violate international human rights norms.

These revelations have not come from the U.S. government or any of the Executive, Congressional, or Judicial institutions charged with overseeing the conduct of U.S. government agencies. Rather, rights violations including the use of secret detention facilities, torture and other war crimes, and sweeping surveillance programmes have all come to light through the work of whistleblowers and journalists determined to subject these activities to public scrutiny and review. Too often, their revelations have been met not by official action to investigate and rectify the violations but by threats and legal retribution against the whistleblowers and journalists themselves.

It is a fundamental right, not only of citizens of the United States but of citizens throughout the world, to access information about serious human rights violations in any country. And it is a protected right of every individual and every writer anywhere on earth to disseminate information about such violations wherever they occur. PEN stands with all who seek to expose violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and deplores efforts by the United States government to prosecute as spies and traitors those who strive to bring its human rights violations to light.

Moreover, as an organization dedicated to preserving free expression and creative freedom, PEN is particularly troubled by recent revelations concerning the nature and scope of electronic surveillance programmes currently in use by the United States’ National Security Agency and parallel programmes such as those being carried out by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom. As leaks about the U.S. government’s PRISM programme, the U.K. government’s Tempora programme, and other such programmes make clear, certain governments now possess the capacity to monitor the private telephone, internet, and other digital communications of every citizen on earth—among them, the communications of PEN’s 20,000 members worldwide. The right to privacy is protected under Article 17 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which both the United States and the United Kingdom are State Parties.

The indiscriminate, dragnet monitoring of private communications ignores the concept of presumption of innocence and violates basic due process requirements including individualized suspicion. Such monitoring, coupled with new data mining technologies, enables the wholesale profiling of individuals based on their private, expressive activities. Moreover, when such surveillance is conducted across borders, it creates a situation in which citizens have their private lives and thoughts exposed to the judgement and review of governments over which they exert no influence or control—and against which they have no capacity to defend themselves.

In light of these deeply troubling revelations, the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International:

•    Reiterates the principles relating to surveillance that are outlined in Article 3 of the PEN Declaration on Digital Freedom;

•    Calls on the government of the United States of America, and on the governments of the United Kingdom and all other governments that are participating in, assisting, benefitting from, or replicating programmes like the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM programme, to conduct full, independent, and transparent reviews of all such programmes and bring them into conformity with domestic and international law;

•    Demands an end to attempts to prosecute, or threats to prosecute, individuals for the purported crime of divulging information about secret programmes that violate international human rights norms, and the traditional and new media journalists, writers, publishers who publish that information;

•    Urges all governments to affirm the value of individual privacy as an essential right and as a necessary prerequisite for the realization of the right to freedom of expression.

Reykjavik, Iceland, september 2013