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Calling All Bookworms: What Do YOU Have to Hide?

Noa Yachot,
Former Senior Editor,
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April 1, 2015

There’s something really liberating about having some corner of your life that’s yours, that no one gets to see except you. It’s a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There’s nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them. But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you’d have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you’d be buck naked?

-Cory Doctorow, “Little Brother”

What happens to creative freedom when the creator is under surveillance? Can ordinary people express themselves openly when they know the government is watching?

It doesn’t take a poll to understand that mass surveillance changes behavior – we need simply to look to literature for cautionary tales. To that end, we at the ACLU – along with our friends at the PEN American Center, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and the American Library Association – have created “Something to Hide,” a toolkit to give bookworms everywhere an excuse to read their favorite authors while exploring the effects of surveillance on our fundamental freedoms of speech and expression.

The idea: Galvanize members of your community to do their part to rein in the surveillance state through events that employ literature in discussions about privacy, artistic expression, and government spying. Something to Hide can be tailored to any audience or venue – such as your public library, local bookstore, church, mosque, or book club. Readers can select their own texts, invite local authors to promote or workshop their own writing, or use the 12 readings in the toolkit, from the likes of Orwell, Atwood, Hughes, and more. You’ll find information in the toolkit about how we can support your event and ways to turn a celebration of literature into a call for action.

Our toolkit’s got something for everyone, with texts for younger readers, recognizable classics, and contemporary up-and-comers. We have excerpts from the past, present, and future, and authors who span the globe, from Turkey, to Canada, to China, and beyond. (After all, while the NSA may have technologically surpassed its forerunners and contemporaries, it certainly didn’t invent spying.)

Privacy isn’t just about keeping secrets. It is a bedrock condition for creativity, and it is obliterated by pervasive surveillance. The readings in our toolkit contain remarkable examples of resilience, but we have every right to expect art and free expression to be a given – not an act of resistance.

Until then – happy reading.