The Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the Wikipedia website, and a host of human rights groups have joined forces to sue the National Security Agency and Department of Justice for violating Americans’ constitutionally protected free speech and privacy rights.
The goal of the lawsuit, according to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, is to put a stop to the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance practices, which basically equate to a warrantless large-scale search and seizure of Internet communications.
“Surveillance erodes the original promise of the Internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear,” Wales said in a statement.
The practice of sweeping up digital communications en masse was authorized by the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FAA). The FAA only specifically authorizes the collection of communications data of “non-U.S. persons,” but it’s impossible for the NSA to avoid collecting domestic data because the information is collected by conducting dragnet surveillance on the Internet’s principal data routes.
For that reason, Wikimedia representatives argue that the agency has essentially tapped the Internet.
“By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” said Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “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 lawsuit also makes the case that the NSA has taken liberties with its interpretation of the already broad FAA authorizations resulting in surveillance that would be obviously unconstitutional outside of the digital realm.
From the complaint:
Seizing and searching Wikimedia’s communications is akin to seizing and searching the patron records of the largest library in the world — except that Wikimedia’s communications provide a more comprehensive and detailed picture of its users’ interests than any previous set of library records ever could have offered.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include: The Nation, 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 American Civil Liberties Union is representing the groups.