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Wikipedia Sues NSA, DOJ Over Mass Surveillance

Friday, July 31st, 2015

The Wikimedia Foundation, the San Francisco based non-profit and charitable organization which is behind a host of Wiki sites (including Wikipedia), has sued the US Department of Justice and National Security Agency over their upstream mass surveillance programs. The organization has joined hands with eight other civil liberty groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for the lawsuit and they would be represented by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the court. By filing a lawsuit against the government agencies, Wikipedia hopes to protect the rights of its users and bring an end to the state sponsored surveillance.

The lawsuit claims that the upstream surveillance program initiated by the NSA, which involves intercepting huge amounts of internet traffic by tapping into undersea cables, routers and switches; violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The upstream surveillance program, which is also referred to as dragnet surveillance, was authorized by the American government in 2008 by making an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Wikipedia alleges that while the amendment was done to monitor the online activities of “non-US persons” only, the surveillance also collects data of many Americans as well as foreign citizens who are not a threat to the country.

While announcing the lawsuit through an op-ed published in the New York Times, Jimmy Wales (promoter and co-founder of Wikipedia) and Lila Tretikov (executive director of Wikimedia Foundation) said that Wikipedia is the result of the efforts of thousands of volunteers from all over the world and many of its contributors, especially those who write on controversial topics or live under repressive regimes, prefer to contribute anonymously. They alleged that by intercepting vast amounts of online traffic and possibly sharing them with other governments, NSA was stifling free exchange of knowledge and freedom of expression which represented a loss for the entire internet community.

Lila also said in a separate blog post that by tapping into the very backbone of the internet, the NSA is weakening the democracy. She added that by violating Wikipedia’s users’ privacy, the NSA was actually threatening the freedom that enables users to create and consume knowledge since the encyclopedia was founded on the principles of freedom of expression, information and inquiry.

ACLU, in its statement, said that the group was challenging the surveillance powers bestowed upon the intelligence agencies which allowed them unrestricted access to the communications made by millions of American citizens. The lawyers of the group also alleged that the NSA routinely reviews and copies communications related to specific search terms which not only allowed the intelligence agency to identify target individuals but also curious users who merely wanted information on that topic.

This is not the first time when the privacy groups have tried to sue the NSA in the court. However, all the previous lawsuits were related to the tapping of communications and not the upstream surveillance conducted by the intelligence agencies. An earlier lawsuit filed by Amnesty International was dismissed by the court since the group couldn’t prove that the NSA violated the US Constitution through its actions. By partnering with Wikipedia, the civil liberty groups hope to achieve better results and end the dragnet surveillance programs of the intelligence agencies.

July 31, 2015

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