PEN launched its new Declaration on Digital Freedom today at the Istanbul Book Fair, signaling our embrace of free expression challenges in the 21st century. The document is a concise statement of PEN’s position on digital technologies that was approved by 20,000 of the world’s leading writers at the PEN Congress in Gyeongju, Korea.
“More than two-thirds of the people on the current Writers in Prison case list have been targeted because of things they have said in blogs, tweets, and on websites,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee at PEN International. “PEN’s new Declaration on Digital Freedom will be invaluable in our defense of writers at risk.”
The Declaration is a concise statement of PEN’s position on four critical issues: the targeting of individuals by governments; censorship of digital media; government surveillance; and business and human rights.
Individuals have suffered increasing persecution for their use of the Internet and mobile phones, and governments from China to Cameroon to Uzbekistan routinely censor information on digital media. Digital technologies also call up broad questions about surveillance, as governments can track individuals or monitor communications, often in the guise of fighting crime and terrorism. With the rise of companies like Google and Twitter, which have revenues approaching that of governments, and whose technologies enable communication across borders, PEN addressed the fact that these technologies can promote expression, but can also expose writers and activists to a heightened risk of persecution.
The Declaration responds to these complex threats by serving as a guidepost for PEN centers and PEN members with the hope of fostering productive dialogue. PEN consulted with experts from academia, business, human rights organizations, government, and international bodies and closely examined the latest international principles and legal cases in assembling the document.
The Declaration on Digital Freedom does not address issues of intellectual property or copyright, which are not traditional areas of PEN’s advocacy.
The Declaration is being translated into numerous languages for dissemination to the more than 144 PEN centers around the world.