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NSA Domestic Spying Revelations Have Chilling Affect On Web Searches: Use of Search Terms Considered 'Embarrassing' or 'Incriminating' Went Down Signficantly - Study

J. Edgar Hoover, when he was director of the FBI, once said he wanted activists to
feel "like there was an FBI agent behind every mailbox." Was that the hidden agenda
behind revelations of NSA's mass spying on citizens? (Illustration by Ronald DavidJackson -
Adapted from Photos by ieshraq and Alexi Kostibas)

The study, Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior, was authored by Alex Marthews of Restore The Fourth (Cambridge, MA) and Catherine Tucker of the MIT Sloan School of Management (Cambridge, MA) and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study used data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U. S. government. Data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries was used. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions.

Using panel data, the results suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive or embarrassing.

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Search Terms and Sensitivity Ratings:

DHS Search Terms Pt 1

DHS Search Terms Pt 2

Embarrassing Search Terms Pt 1

Embarrassing Search Terms Pt 2

Google Search Terms

Syria's Bloodbath Tally: Most of the Killing Has NOT Been Committed by Government Forces

Members of Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra prepare to execute those they have  deemed as "enemies" in this video they recorded and posted.
Members of Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra prepare to execute those they have
deemed as "enemies" in this video they recorded and posted. (Screen capture
from YouTube video)

More pro-regime forces than civilians have been killed during the Civil War.

By Micah Zenko, Amelia M. Wolf
Estimates released today by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) portray a different picture of the civil war in Syria than U.S. policymakers and media convey. SOHR’s estimated death toll reinforces the point made in an article published on ForeignPolicy.com in September 2013, when they last released updated data: most of the reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by forces under Bashar al-Assad’s command. Additionally, the involvement of various individuals and groups in the conflict has broadened greatly since SOHR’s September 2013 estimate.

Despite the potential bias and the methodological challenges it faces, SOHR has unrelentingly compiled casualty data since the start of the conflict in Syria more than three years ago. While the United Nations (UN) last updated its estimated death toll in July 2013 at 100,000 killed, and has since stated it will no longer provide updates, SOHR’s update released today estimates a total of 150,344 people killed since March 2011. SOHR’s estimates are presented below.

Syria Stats

There are two noticeably provocative elements of SOHR’s estimates. First, while estimates for rebel force casualties were a separate category in SOHR’s previous estimates, SOHR has now included rebel force casualties (24,275) within civilian casualties, totaling 75,487. Above, rebel forces have been listed separately, which reveals that, according to SOHR’s estimates, more pro-regime forces than civilians have been killed during the Syrian civil war. This does not lessen the severity of the conflict’s tremendous impact on civilians. Moreover, SOHR’s estimates are subject to error. While SOHR estimates that about 7, 985 children have died, other organizations such as the Oxford Research Group have much higher estimates over 11,000. Additionally, the conflict has resulted in at least 2.5 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

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