08:36 GMT23 January 2021
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    After former CIA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the ubiquitous government surveillance of the internet, ordinary users worldwide drastically altered their web browsing habits, to avoid being prosecuted for visiting pages containing materials associated with issues of "terrorism."

    According to a survey by University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, Snowden revelations forced internet users to avoid websites with information about “al-Qaeda,” “jihad,” “Iraq,” or “nuclear enrichment.”

    The researchers discovered that 48 Wikipedia pages devoted to terrorism issues have seen a decline in internet traffic by some 30 percent since the 2013 leaks, the report reads.

    To arrive to the conclusions, the team analyzed the terms the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to monitor social media.

    Jonathon Penney, one of the authors behind the study, dubbed this phenomenon a “chilling effect,” specifying it could be harmful “for the health of democratic deliberation among citizens.”

    Another research team got similar results last year, when they found out that Internet audiences seek to avoid such terms as “anthrax” or “dirty bomb” while using Google search.

    “Our results suggest that there is a chilling effect on search behavior from government surveillance on the Internet, and that government surveillance programs may damage the international competitiveness of US-based Internet firms,” privacy advocate Alex Marthews and MIT’s Catherine Tucker said of their findings.

    At the same time, the Snowden leaks instigated the trend toward enhanced encryption of software by technological giants like Google, substantially hampering the surveillance and collection of personal data.

    "The projected growth, maturation and installation of commercially available encryption – what they had forecasted for seven years ahead, three years ago, was accelerated to now because of the revelation of the leaks," US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated recently.

    He also expressed his regret regarding encryption, claiming that it’s popular use harms public security.

    "From our standpoint, it’s not a good thing,” Clapper said.


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