NSA snooping scares Wikipedia readers

spyInternet traffic to Wikipedia pages summarising knowledge about terror groups and their tools plunged nearly 30 percent after revelations of widespread Web monitoring by the US spooks.

A paper in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal analyses the fall in traffic saying  that it provides the most direct evidence to date of a so-called “chilling effect,” or negative impact on legal conduct, from the intelligence practices disclosed by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Author Jonathon Penney, a fellow at the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary Citizen Lab, looked at the monthly views of Wikipedia articles on 48 topics identified by the US Department of Homeland Security as subjects that they track on social media, including Al Qaeda, dirty bombs and jihad.

In the 16 months prior to the first major Snowden stories in June 2013, the articles drew a variable but an increasing audience, with a low point of about 2.2 million per month rising to 3.0 million just before disclosures of the NSA’s Internet spying programs.

Views of the sensitive pages rapidly fell back to 2.2 million a month in the next two months and later dipped under 2.0 million before stabilising below 2.5 million 14 months later, Penney found.

Penney’s results confirm other research which noted a five per cent drop in Google searches for sensitive terms immediately after June 2013. Other surveys have found sharply increased use of privacy-protecting Web browsers and communications tools.