by Nadia Prupis
had a "chilling effect" on the lawful pursuit of information,
a new study finds.
or deterred from learning
about important policy matters...
this is a real threat
to proper democratic debate."
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 (Chilling Effects - Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use) 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.
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.
The research comes as public opinion increasingly turns against government surveillance. In May 2015, a poll commissioned by the ACLU found that a majority of Americans oppose NSA spying, while a Pew survey found that 87 percent of adults in the U.S. knew of Snowden's revelations.
In March 2015, the ACLU also filed a lawsuit against the NSA and the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of Wikipedia's parent organization and other groups, which argues that mass surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches.