Internet Surveillance, Regulation, and Chilling Effects Online: A Comparative Case Study

(2017) 6(2) Internet Policy Review

24 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2017 Last revised: 9 Sep 2019

See all articles by Jon Penney

Jon Penney

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Harvard Law School; Osgoode Hall Law School; Citizen Lab, University of Toronto

Date Written: May 27, 2017


With internet regulation and censorship on the rise, states increasingly engaging in online surveillance, and state cyber-policing capabilities rapidly evolving globally, concerns about regulatory “chilling effects” online — the idea that laws, regulations, or state surveillance can deter people from exercising their freedoms or engaging in legal activities on the internet have taken on greater urgency and public importance. But just as notions of “chilling effects” are not new, neither is skepticism about their legal, theoretical, and empirical basis; in fact, the concept remains largely un-interrogated with significant gaps in understanding, particularly with respect to chilling effects online. This work helps fill this void with a first-of-its-kind online survey that examines multiple dimensions of chilling effects online by comparing and analyzing responses to hypothetical scenarios involving different kinds of regulatory actions — including an anti-cyberbullying law, public/private sector surveillance, and an online regulatory scheme.

Keywords: Chilling effects, internet, online, government surveillance, corporate surveillance, NSA, privacy, internet regulation, human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, online search, online speech, social networks, copyright, DMCA, social computing

Suggested Citation

Penney, Jonathon, Internet Surveillance, Regulation, and Chilling Effects Online: A Comparative Case Study (May 27, 2017). (2017) 6(2) Internet Policy Review , Available at SSRN:

Jonathon Penney (Contact Author)

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

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

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

Citizen Lab, University of Toronto ( email )

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

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