The Wikimedia Foundation, owners and operators of the popular crowd-edited reference website Wikipedia, has filed a lawsuit against the US National Security Agency (NSA) in response to the organization’s surveillance program.
According to BBC News, the lawsuit also names the US Department of Justice and accuses the two groups of violating the Constitution’s right to free speech, as well as laws protecting citizens of the United States from unreasonable search and seizure.
In a blog entry posted Tuesday, Wikimedia’s Michelle Paulson and Geoff Brigham wrote that the lawsuit “challenges the NSA’s large-scale search and seizure of internet communications – frequently referred to as ‘upstream’ surveillance. Our aim in filing this suit is to end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world.”
The Foundation has been joined by eight other organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Global Fund for Women, and The Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America. Their case will be handled by attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“We’re filing suit today on behalf of our readers and editors everywhere,” said Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. “Surveillance erodes the original promise of the internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear.”
Privacy is hard to come by these days
“Privacy is the bedrock of individual freedom,” Paulson and Brigham added. “It is a universal right that sustains the freedoms of expression and association. These principles enable inquiry, dialogue, and creation and are central to Wikimedia’s vision of empowering everyone to share in the sum of all human knowledge. When they are endangered, our mission is threatened.”
The NSA’s activities and the scale of their surveillance program were made public after former contractor Edward Snowden released a series of documents detailing the initiative, including the fact that the agency tapped the Internet’s backbone network to collect data, the BBC said. By doing so, they were also able to illegally spy on domestic communications, Wikimedia claims.
In addition to violating the First and Fourth Amendments of the US Constitution, Wikimedia is accusing the NSA of exceeding authority granted to it by Congress in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FAA), and that NSA actions and the limited judicial review of those practices violates Article III of the US Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed in Maryland, where the NSA headquarters are located.
An Obama administration official told Reuters, “We’ve been very clear about what constitutes a valid target of electronic surveillance” and that “the act of innocuously updating or reading an online article does not fall into that category.” The Justice Department told the news agency that it was reviewing the lawsuit, while the NSA had not yet responded to requests for comment.