Many groups have claimed that the NSA’s surveillance program is an unconstitutional violation of privacy. But a different type of challenge is growing teeth. Led by civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, more than 20 organizations, with interests ranging from marijuana to guns, are currently suing the federal government.
They believe the NSA surveillance program has a chilling effect on speech, thus violating the First Amendment.
It’s difficult to prove this, though. There’s no way to quantify the students who don’t join their college’s “legalize marijuana” club, or the number of Arab-Americans who avoid political topics via email. Absences are murky to measure. But the PEN American Center, a group that defends free expression and human rights, managed to get a sense of its scope. Of the more than 500 writers they surveyed, one in six said they had avoided writing or speaking about a certain topic, and almost one in four reported that they had self-censored via e-mail or on the phone.
In the survey, which was conducted online by the public opinion research firm the FDR Group, writers expressed wariness about researching and writing on national security, the Middle East, the drug wars, liberal organizing like the Occupy movement, and child abuse and child pornography. Sixteen percent of survey respondents said they refrained from conducting Internet searches or visiting websites on topics that may be considered controversial or suspect.