The expansion of government surveillance— or, more precisely, our expanding awareness of government surveillance— has had a chilling effect on writers.
According to a survey conducted by the PEN American Center in October 2013, 28 percent of American writers have limited their comments on social media due to concern about increased surveillance. More seriously, one in four writers have “deliberately avoided certain topics in phone or email conversations” and 16 percent have “avoided writing or speaking about a particular topic.”
Due to increased surveillance, and the government’s grudging reluctance to share information about the scope of snooping or the possible consequences for being a thriller writer caught googling “how to build pipe bomb,” American writers may want to make use of uProxy, a service Google developed to help dissidents in autocratic nations mask their communications.
If writers are feeling the chill, tech businesses can’t be far behind. It is increasingly seen as a liability to keep servers and information on U.S. soil. After all, the National Security Agency placed physical taps on fiber optic cables carrying information in and out of the data centers run by Google, Yahoo and others. Just as writers have started editing or self-censoring, tech companies may start avoiding what would otherwise be best practices in order to maintain their users’ privacy.
Or they may start avoiding the United States all together.
The European Union has stricter laws on privacy than we do stateside, and, just as Google had to pare back its Street View program in Germany to remain in compliance, other tech companies may need to guarantee that the United States won’t have access to their data, perhaps by abandoning the U.S. market.
While the White House emphasizes STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to keep America competitive intellectually and economically, NSA overreach may frighten off potential entrepreneurs or turn them into expatriates.