Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use

Citation data:

Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1, p. 117, 2016

Publication Year:
2016
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SSRN
SSRN Id:
2769645
Author(s):
Jon Penney
Tags:
chilling effects; surveillance; NSA; government; Snowden; online monitoring; online surveillance; privacy; freedom of expression; freedom of speech; online rights; Wikipedia; Wikimedia; constitutional litigation; standing; empirical legal studies
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paper description
This article discusses the results of the first empirical study providing evidence of regulatory “chilling effects” of Wikipedia users associated with online government surveillance. The study explores how traffic to Wikipedia articles on topics that raise privacy concerns for Wikipedia users decreased after the widespread publicity about NSA/PRISM surveillance revelations in June 2013. Using an interdisciplinary research design, the study tests the hypothesis, based on chilling effects theory, that traffic to privacy-sensitive Wikipedia articles reduced after the mass surveillance revelations. The Article finds not only a statistically significant immediate decline in traffic for these Wikipedia articles after June 2013, but also a change in the overall secular trend in the view count traffic, suggesting not only immediate but also long-term chilling effects resulting from the NSA/PRISM online surveillance revelations. These, and other results from the case study, not only offer compelling evidence for chilling effects associated with online surveillance, but also offer 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. This study is among the first to demonstrate — using either Wikipedia data or web traffic data more generally — how government surveillance and similar actions may impact online activities, including access to information and knowledge online.