Leading authors call for bill of digital rights

The authors included Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, and Günter Grass

December 11, 2013 01:03 am | Updated November 16, 2021 09:01 pm IST - Washington:

Over 500 leading authors across the world, including five Nobel laureates, signed an open letter challenging the global mass surveillance of Internet and telephone communications by the U.S. National Security Agency, describing the Agency’s snooping as a “theft” of data and a force undermining democratic principles.

Hailing from 81 different nations the authors, including Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, and Günter Grass called on the U.N. to create an international “bill of digital rights” that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the Internet age.

They argued that the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people’s digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.

The signatories comprised 22 Indian authors including Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Girish Karnad, Jeet Thayil, Mukul Kesavan, Ramchandra Guha, Tishani Doshi, Salil Tripathi and Suketu Mehta.

Following revelations since June 2013 by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden on the extent of surveillance across multiple nations, the authors’ letter comes a day after the chief executives of leading tech firms such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft urged for sweeping changes to surveillance programmes to stop the erosion of public trust.

The debate also comes as privacy advocates within the U.S. have pressed for surveillance reform and the U.S. Congress has grilled intelligence community bosses over whether any violations of laws occurred.

This week in their letter titled “A stand for democracy in a digital age,” the authors said, “A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.”

They further demanded the right for people to determine “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.”

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