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The nonprofit group Wikimedia, that runs Wikipedia, is to file a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) with regards to the agencies’ surveillance programs. Wikimedia asserts that governmental practices that spy on users’ actions online, violate the United States Constitution’s First Amendment that protects free speech and the Fourth Amendment that protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure.
This lawsuit by Wikipedia is planned to be filed on Tuesday and is being met with some anticipation. The suit filed on behalf of Wikipedia against the NSA and the DOJ challenges the mass surveillance programs that monitor Internet traffic, also known as Upstream surveillance. This type of data collection is done via tapping all the information that is transferred through the infrastructure that is already in place such as undersea cables.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already published the full complaint. This type of data observation of online sites like Wikipedia was originally authorized as a method of spying by the government through the Foreign Intelligence Act Amendments (FIAA) of 2008. The purpose of this Act was to monitor “non-U.S. persons.” The issue arises when it is noted that when conducting such broad methods of observation it is inevitable that many citizens of the U.S. are included in the program.
Executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Lila Tretikov notes: “By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy.” She continues to explain that Wikipedia was built upon the concept of “freedom of expression, inquiry, and information” and that through these types of programs, the fundamental right to privacy, which is protected under the Constitution, the NSA is “threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.”
The suit is being filed by Wikipedia along with eight other groups including the ACLU, Amnesty International USA, and Human Rights Watch. These groups together contend that the NSA and DOJ are presently violating the reach that was granted under the 2008 FIAA. These U.S. based technology companies are suffering from this violation of the Act due to their users hesitant participation. This is another reason why the organizations like Wikipedia and the ACLU are coming together to defend the public’s right to privacy.
It is estimated that 500 million people use Wikipedia each month. This claim that the FIAA violates Constitutional rights was first mentioned in documents presented by one of Wikipedia’s most famous users, Edward Snowden. However, he also asserted that that this Act also violates Article III of the Constitution, which defines the authority of the U.S. courts. Simply, many are suggesting this spying infringes on the right to “exchange and share knowledge.”
The lawsuit being filed on Tuesday by Wikimedia, who runs Wikipedia, and by eight other organizations against the NSA and DOJ is the first step in limiting the extent the agencies have power to monitor casual users’ data transfers. It is uncertain how successful these allegations will be. This is not the first time someone has tried to limit the NSA’s conduct but it is the first time a group of companies with such esteem as Wikipedia have come together to pursue such an action.
By Joel Wickwire