Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use

66 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2016 Last revised: 8 Sep 2016

See all articles by Jon Penney

Jon Penney

Harvard Law School; Harvard Kennedy School - Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Citizen Lab, University of Toronto

Date Written: 2016

Abstract

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.

Keywords: 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

JEL Classification: K19, K40, K41, K42, K49

Suggested Citation

Penney, Jonathon, Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use (2016). Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1, p. 117, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2769645

Jonathon Penney (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard Kennedy School - Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA Nova Scotia 02138
Canada

Citizen Lab, University of Toronto ( email )

Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7
Canada

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