AUTHORS and academics stay away from terrorism and other topics for fear of surveillance, new research has found.

Work by Strathclyde University and freedom of speech organisation Scottish PEN found writers avoid “sensitive topics” due to the perception of monitoring.

More than one fifth of the 120 authors, journalists, publishers and academics questioned said that the issue had an impact on their output.

And around one third said they had curtailed or avoided social media activities.

Respondents also reported that concerns about monitoring led to them to avoid researching certain subjects, such as organised crime.

The work is based on a 2013 paper by PEN America.

Co-author David McMenemy, who is a lecturer in computer and information sciences at Strathclyde University, commented: “The findings of the report indicate that both corporate and government surveillance are having an effect on what Scottish journalists and authors feel free to write about.”

He went on: “The impact on a democratic society of the article or story that should be but is never written is incalculable.”

Nik Williams of Scottish PEN said: “If writers are avoiding sensitive topics like terrorism, national security and serious crime as this study suggests, society and democracy suffers with the public less able to access independent information from diverse points of view.

“While censorship can be crudely measured by number of writers attacked, intimidated or in prison, the closures of media outlets and publishing houses or the bureaucratic hurdles put in place to restrict different people from expressing themselves, self-censorship is far harder to track.

“How are we to know when a writer has decided not to publish something due to unknown risks?

“This survey shows a significant connection between the perception of surveillance and self-censorship that requires further analysis and action to ensure free expression can continue to strengthen democracy and civic participation.”

A lack of knowledge about privacy tools was also highlighted.

Researcher Dr Lauren Smith said: “This report highlights a gap between people’s concerns and their digital and technological skills – although people may have concerns about surveillance, they do not necessarily know how they can change their behaviour to increase their privacy and security.

“A range of technological, legal and academic issues relating to writers’ self-censorship are identified, pointing to the need

for a multi-agency approach to protecting freedom of expression.”