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Wikimedia sues NSA

March 10, 2015

The Wikimedia Foundation and an array of rights' groups have filed a lawsuit against the US spy agency NSA, challenging one of its mass surveillance programs. They claim it violates American citizens' right to privacy.

Illustration Wikipedia
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Jens Büttner

The Wikimedia Foundation, owner of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, said Tuesday it had filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Maryland seeking to end the United States National Security Agency's (NSA's) "dragnet surveillance of internet traffic."

Co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Rutherford Institute, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, the Nation magazine, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Global Fund for Women, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

Wikimedia said the NSA was violating US constitutional protections and the law by tapping into high-capacity cables, switches and routers that move Internet traffic through the United States. The NSA's upstream surveillance program captures communications with "non-US persons" in order to acquire foreign intelligence information.

"By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy," Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation said in a statement.

Freedom of speech under threat

The lawsuit is a new legal front for privacy advocates who have brought multiple challenges to US spying programs since 2013, when documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the long reach of US surveillance.

The litigation takes on the NSA's bulk collection of data, saying the method violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and association, and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

The US Department of Justice, which was named as a defendant along with the NSA, said it was reviewing the lawsuit.

An Obama administration official said: "We've been very clear about what constitutes a valid target of electronic surveillance. The act of innocuously updating or reading an online article does not fall into that category."

Tretikov and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote in the New York Times' opinion pages on Tuesday that they were concerned about where data on their users ended up after it was collected in bulk by the NSA. Citing close intelligence ties between the United States and Egypt, they said a user in Egypt would have reason to fear reprisal if she edited a page about the country's political opposition.

Representing the plaintiffs in the Maryland court are the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the law firm Proskauer Rose.

uhe/bk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)