The Wikimedia Foundation, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing the U.S. National Security Agency in a bid to challenge mass surveillance of Internet communications, Reuters reports. In a new lawsuit filed this week in the Maryland U.S. District Court, Wikimedia, along with free speech activist groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA, is taking on the intelligence agency in a highly public forum.
“By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” Wikimedia Foundation executive editor Lila Tretikov said in a statement. “Wikipedia is founded on the freedoms of expression, inquiry, and information. By violating our users’ privacy, the NSA is threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.”
The idea that Jimmy Wales’s organization is spearheading a protest about Internet surveillance is not as far-fetched as some might think. The Wikimedia Foundation, which is Wikipedia’s parent organization, has quietly branched out into advocacy work over the past year in addition to its main project of maintaining the free online encyclopedia.
Wikimedia and its partners allege that the NSA and the Justice Department are violating the First and Fourth Amendments through their mass surveillance of the Internet, and threatening the safety of Wikipedia readers and editors around the world.
Tretikov and Wales published an op-ed in the New York Times to kick off the campaign.
“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. These activities are sensitive and private: They can reveal everything from a person’s political and religious beliefs to sexual orientation and medical conditions,” Wales wrote in the op-ed.
Wikimedia’s lawsuit seeks an end to the widely used “upstream” Internet surveillance reportedly used by the NSA, an admission that it was unconstitutional, and destruction of records related to upstream surveillance. Reuters reports that high-profile law firm Proskauer Rose and the ACLU are representing Wikimedia and its co-complainants.