Mass surveillance harms the public interest: report

TORONTONov. 14, 2016 /CNW/ - As it becomes clear that police forces in Canada are actively spying on journalists, and damaging freedom of the press in the process, a new report confirms that writers across Canada are so concerned about mass surveillance that some are self-censoring their own activities.

Chilling Free Expression in Canada, a revealing report that draws upon a survey of 120 writers and journalists, shows that the vast majority of respondents expressed concern about government and corporate surveillance in Canada and abroad, and that resulting infringements on their privacy is causing a disturbing number of writers to think twice about what they publish and how they conduct research.

Read the full report here

The survey illuminates a Canadian perspective on a conversation already happening elsewhere. The Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, in collaboration with PEN Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists, conducted the survey of 129 Canadian writers and journalists between May 27 and June 20, 2016.

Close to a quarter of writers and journalists surveyed reported that they avoid writing about certain topics because of government and corporate surveillance. A fifth said they refrain from conducting internet searches or visiting web sites on topics that may be considered controversial or suspicious. "Writers and journalists are society's eyes and ears," says Centre for Free Expression Director James L. Turk. "If fear of surveillance is causing them to self-censor, the public is being denied important stories, and we are the poorer for it."

More than 70 per cent of respondents agreed that most Canadians are unconcerned or unaware about government surveillance. That has to change, says CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. "We know that police actively spy on journalists, and that whistleblowers who trust reporters to protect their identities will now be less willing to come forward," he says. "Canadians must understand the gravity of that ongoing threat to the public interest."

"The freedom of expression, not just of writers and journalists, but of all Canadians, needs constant and vigilant defence," says Grace Westcott, Executive Director of PEN Canada. "Mass government surveillance effectively encroaches on that freedom, to all our cost."

The Centre for Free Expression in the Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson University is a hub for public education, research and advocacy on free expression and the public's right to know. Our work is undertaken in collaboration with academic and community-based organizations across Canada and internationally.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

PEN Canada is a non-partisan organization of writers that works to defend the right to freedom of expression at home and abroad.  PEN Canada celebrates literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison and assists writers living in exile in Canada.

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