Wikipedia takes feds to court over spying

NSA, Wikipedia, Spying

The foundation behind Wikipedia is suing the U.S. government over spying that it says violates core provisions of the Constitution.

The Wikimedia Foundation joined forces on Tuesday with a slew of human rights groups, The Nation magazine and other organizations in a lawsuit accusing the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department of violating the constitutional protections for freedom of speech and privacy.

“Wikipedia is founded on the freedoms of expression, inquiry, and information,” Wikimedia Foundation head Lila Tretikov said in a statement posted on the group’s blog. “By violating our users’ privacy, the NSA is threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.” 

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If successful, the lawsuit could land a crippling blow to the web of secretive spying powers wielded by the NSA and exposed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago. Despite initial outrage after Snowden’s leaks, Congress has yet to make any serious reforms to the NSA, and many of the programs continue largely unchanged.

The lawsuit targets the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance program, which taps into the fiber cables that make up the backbone of the global Internet and allows the agency to collect vast amounts of information about people on the Web.

“As a result, whenever someone overseas views or edits a Wikipedia page, it’s likely that the N.S.A. is tracking that activity — including the content of what was read or typed, as well as other information that can be linked to the person’s physical location and possible identity,” Tretikov and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote in a joint New York Times op-ed announcing the lawsuit. 

Because the operations are largely overseen solely by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which operates out of the public eye and has been accused of acting as a rubber stamp for intelligence agencies — the foundation accused the NSA of violating the guarantees of a fair legal system.

In addition to the Wikimedia Foundation and The Nation, the other groups joining the lawsuit are the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Pen American Center, the Global Fund for Women, the Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America. The groups are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2013, a lawsuit against similar surveillance powers brought by Amnesty International was tossed out by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the organization was not affected by the spying and had no standing to sue. 

That decision came before Snowden’s leaks later that summer, however, which included a slide featuring Wikipedia’s logo alongside those of Facebook, Yahoo, Google and other top websites. That should be more than enough grounds for a successful suit, the foundation said. 

In addition to the new suit, there are also a handful of other outstanding legal challenges to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, a different program that has inspired some of the most heated antipathy. Those suits are all pending in appeals courts around the country.