Snowden Revelations Led to 'Chilling Effect' on Pursuit of Knowledge: Study
National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden’s 2013 mass surveillance revelations caused a drop in website browsing, particularly in internet searches for terms associated with extremism, an example of the most direct evidence yet that the spying operations exposed in the leak had a “chilling effect” on the lawful pursuit of information, an impending report has found.
The paper, due to be published in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, argues that the curtailing of browsing for words like “al-Qaeda,” “jihad,” “Iraq,” and “nuclear enrichment” shows that people have become scared to learn about “important policy matters” due to the fear of government surveillance.
Researchers found “compelling evidence for chilling effects associated with online surveillance,” as well as “important insights about how we should understand such chilling effects and their scope, including how they interact with other dramatic or significant events (like war and conflict) and their broader implications for privacy, U.S. constitutional litigation, and the health of democratic society,” the paper states.
Lead author Jonathan Penney, a PhD candidate at Oxford, analyzed Wikipedia traffic in the months before and after Snowden’s 2013 revelations. He found a 20 percent drop in page views of Wikipedia articles on terrorism, particularly those that mentioned car bombs, the Taliban, or al-Qaeda.
“You want to have informed citizens,” Penney told the Washington Post. “If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.”
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