Wikimedia Foundation Sues NSA Over Internet Surveillance

Edward Snowden privacy protest NSA US Washington © Rena Schild Shutterstock

The operator of Wikipedia said it hopes to rein in the NSA’s mass Internet surveillance operations

The Wikimedia Foundation has said it is to sue the US’ National Security Administration (NSA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) over the NSA’s mass Internet surveillance programme, arguing it infringes upon the US Constitution’s protection of free speech and citing the programme’s allegedly “chilling effect” upon Wikipedia.

A similar lawsuit, filed by Amnesty International USA against director of national intelligence James Clapper, was dismissed from the US Supreme Court in 2013 over what it called Amnesty’s inability to prove it suffered harm as a result of the surveillance activities cited in the lawsuit. Wikimedia said it has a better chance of success, because classified NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden included references indicating that Wikipedia and its users were specifically targeted.


‘End mass surveillance’

“Our aim in filing this suit is to end this mass surveillance programme in order to protect the rights of our users around the world,” the organisation stated. “If people look over their shoulders before searching, pause before contributing to controversial articles, or refrain from sharing verifiable but unpopular information, Wikimedia and the world are poorer for it.”

The lawsuit is due to be filed later on Tuesday, with eight other organisations backing it, and legal representation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The foundation said it was “alarmed” by the documents disclosed by Snowden in 2013, and began discussions with the ACLU last year.

The case is to specifically challenge the NSA’s collection of data from the Internet’s backbone to capture communications, which Wikimedia said may include communications by its users and staff.

“We believe that the NSA’s current practices far exceed the already broad authority granted by the US Congress through the FAA,” Wikimedia stated, adding it believes the practices violate the US Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and association, and Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

‘Chilling effect’

In an opinion piece in Tuesday’s New York Times, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Wikimedia Foundation executive director Lila Tretikov said people in countries undergoing political turmoil might think twice about contributing politically sensitive writings to Wikipedia if they knew their communications were being watched by the NSA and that they could even be personally identified in public as a result.

Joining Wikimedia as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, Pen American Centre, Global Fund for Women, The Nation Magazine, The Rutherford Institute, and Washington Office on Latin America.

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