Big Brother is watching you and he wants you to believe that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.
This is a lie, of course, and as we move deeper into the era of state sponsored technological surveillance, we see more evidence that the loss of privacy and confidence in inter-personal communications istransforming the individual into a compliant, self-policing ward of the state.
In one of the first empirical scientific studies to provide concrete evidence of the ‘chilling effects’ that government surveillance has on internet users, Oxford University professor Jon Penney looked at Wikipedia search data and traffic patterns before and after the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden regarding widespread NSA surveillance of the internet. The results demonstrated an immediate trend towards self-censorship, as traffic and searches for terms like ‘Al Qaeda,’ ‘car bomb,’ and ‘Taliban’ showed nearly instant and mentionable decline.
The changes were statistically significant enough to indicate that many people automatically alter their own behavior upon realizing that a punitive authoritarian organization is monitoring them for legitimate or perceived wrongdoings.
“If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.” – Jon Penney
In 2013, the organization Pen America conducted a survey of writers in the United States showing that many were already self-censoring themselves in an increasingly oppressive atmosphere of government surveillance. The fear of being caught up in a dragnet of legal and financial problems was sufficient enough for many to change their tone and content, even though no direct physical threat existed.
“The results of this survey—the beginning of a broader investigation into the harms of surveillance—substantiate PEN’s concerns: writers are not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.” [Source]
Commenting on the effects of authoritarian governments which heavily surveil their citizens, Pen America also notes that, “historically, from writers and intellectuals in the Soviet Bloc, and contemporaneously from writers, thinkers, and artists in China, Iran, and elsewhere—aggressive surveillance regimes limit discourse and distort the flow of information and ideas.” This is without question the intended aim of such programs.
That study also included data which indicated how people curtail their online behavior and interactions with other people out of fear of being persecuted by the nanny state:
“Smaller percentages of those surveyed described already changing their day-to-day behavior: 28 percent said they had “curtailed or avoided activities on social media,” with another 12 percent saying they had seriously considered doing it; similar percentages said they had steered clear of certain topics in phone calls or email (24 percent had done so; 9 percent had seriously considered it).” [Source]