The Chilling Effect of Government Surveillance Programs on the Use of the Internet By Muslim-Americans by Dawinder S. Sidhu [Discrimination and National Security Initiative (DNSI); Stanford University – Center for Internet and Society]

Abstract: In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the American intelligence community learned that the al-Qaeda regime has used the Internet in order to covertly plan attacks and communicate with its members, among other things. Indeed, 9/11, as well as every major al-Qaeda terrorist plot since then, involved extensive use of the Internet. As a result, the government of the United States has entered cyberspace. In particular, the government has developed and utilized several programs that enable it to monitor Internet usage and gather relevant electronic evidence.The purpose of this article is to explore whether, and if so to what extent, these surveillance programs have resulted in a chilling effect on the Internet usage of Muslim-Americans. It has been suggested that Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim have modified routine aspects of their daily lives in order to avoid harassment or suspicion. However, the effect of government surveillance measures on this particular area of life, namely the use of Internet technology, has not been formally or scientifically addressed.In order to fill this void, a survey of Muslim-Americans was commissioned to determine whether Muslims in the United States have changed their use of the Internet after 9/11 due to a concern that the government may be tracking their online movements. This article presents the results of this survey, which indicate that an overwhelming majority of polled Muslim-Americans believe that their Internet activities are being monitored by the United States government after 9/11, though only a limited segment of the Muslim-American population has made resultant changes in its online behavior.In addition to discussing the survey results, this article provides an overview of al-Qaeda’s sophisticated use of the Internet and summarizes the government’s post-9/11 online surveillance efforts. This article hopes to enrich our current understanding of the potential impact of government measures on Muslims in the United States, and more generally, of the delicate state of pluralism in times of war.

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