Wikimedia is suing the NSA

Liz Pelly

This is a leaked NSA slide suggesting that the government spies on Wikipedia users.

With assistance from the ACLU, the Wikimedia Foundation (the organization that runs Wikipedia) and dozens of other organizations are filing a lawsuit against the National Security Agency today to protect Internet users from surveillance. The lawsuit says that the NSA’s excessive spying is at odds with the power granted to the agency by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The lawsuit specifically calls attention to “upstream surveillance”, referring to the sort of surveillance used by the U.S. government to spy on almost all international, and many domestic, text-based communications.

In an op-ed penned for today’s New York Times, “Stop Spying on Wikipedia Users,” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Wikimedia Foundation executive director Lila Tretikov explain their reasons for the lawsuit, discussing the role of Wikipedia in spreading truth during social movements like the Arab Spring; outlining privacy as an essential right; and highlighting the specific NSA slides revealed in the Snowden documents that pointed to Wikipedia as a target for surveillance (for example, the image above). They write:

“[Wikipedia’s volunteer editors] should be able to do their work without having to worry that the United States government is monitoring what they read and write. Unfortunately, their anonymity is far from certain because, using upstream surveillance, the N.S.A. intercepts and searches virtually all of the international text-based traffic that flows across the Internet ‘backbone’ inside the United States. This is the network of fiber-optic cables and junctions that connect Wikipedia with its global community of readers and editors.”

More information about the ACLU’s lawsuit, filed today at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, can be found at the ACLU’s website; the full list of plaintiffs includes Wikimedia Foundation, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, Global Fund for Women, The Nation Magazine, The Rutherford Institute, and The Washington Office on Latin America.

The ACLU writes:

Through its general, indiscriminate searches and seizures of the plaintiffs’ communications, upstream surveillance invades their Fourth Amendment right to privacy, infringes on their First Amendment rights to free expression and association, and exceeds the statutory limits of the FAA itself. The nature of plaintiffs’ work and the law’s permissive guidelines for targeting make it likely that the NSA is also retaining and reading their communications, from email exchanges between Amnesty staff and activists, to Wikipedia browsing by readers abroad.

The entire complaint can be read here.

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