Snowden’s Surveillance Leaks have had a chilling effect – Oxford University
A new Oxford University study has published empirical evidence showing that government mass surveillance programs like those exposed by Edward Snowden make us significantly less likely to read about surveillance and other national security-related topics online.
The study looks at Wikipedia traffic before and after Snowden’s surveillance revelations to offer some new insight into the phenomenon of “chilling effects,” which privacy advocates frequently cite as a damaging consequence of unchecked government surveillance. What it found is that traffic on “privacy-sensitive” articles dropped significantly following what author Jon Penney describes as an “exogenous shock” caused by revelations of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs and the resulting media coverage.
The articles were chosen based on keywords from a list of terms flagged by the Department of Homeland Security, used for monitoring social media for terrorism and “suspicious” activity. For example, Wikipedia articles containing the 48 terrorism-related terms the DHS identified—including “al-Qaeda,” “carbomb” and “Taliban”—saw their traffic drop by 20 percent.
The results also mirror a similar MIT study from last year which found that users were less likely to run Google searches containing privacy and national security-related terms that might make them suspicious in the eyes of the government.
Perhaps even more alarmingly, the study seems to show a long-term drop in article views on these topics that lasts well past the initial shock of Snowden’s revelations, suggesting that people’s’ calculations about what to read on Wikipedia may have been permanently affected.