Some have said that the spying has meant they have avoided, or have considered avoiding, controversial topics in their work or censored their posts or phone calls.
More than 75 percent of respondents in countries classified as “free,” 84 percent in “partly free” countries, and 80 percent in countries that were “not free” said that they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about government surveillance in their countries.
The survey was conducted anonymously online in Autumn 2014 and yielded 772 responses from fiction and nonfiction writers and related professionals, including translators and editors, in 50 countries.
Smaller numbers said they avoided or considered avoiding writing or speaking on certain subjects, with 34 percent in countries classified as free, 44 percent in partly free countries and 61 percent in not free countries reporting self-censorship. Respondents in similar percentages reported curtailing social media activity, or said they were considering it, because of surveillance.
The executive director of the PEN American Centre, Suzanne Nossel, said that the findings, taken together with those of a 2013 PEN survey of writers in the United States, indicate that mass surveillance is significantly damaging free expression and the free flow of information around the world.
“Writers are the ones who experience encroachments on freedom of expression most acutely, or first,”. Nossel said. “The idea that we are seeing some similar patterns in free countries to those we’ve traditionally associated with unfree countries is pretty distressing.”
The survey added that mass surveillance by the United States government had damaged its reputation as a defender of free expression, with some 36 percent in other “free” countries and 32 percent in “less free” countries saying freedom of expression had less protection in the United States than in their nations.