Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs Wikipedia, filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency Tuesday to stop a mass surveillance program that it says "erodes the original promise of the Internet."
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of Wikimedia and eight other plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the NSA's widespread "upstream surveillance" of domestic and international Internet communications. The ACLU said its plaintiffs represent human rights and media organization whose work "require(s) them to engage in sensitive communications with people outside the United States, such as colleagues, clients, journalists, and victims of human rights abuses."
In a statement Tuesday, Wikimedia senior legal counsel Michelle Paulson and general counsel Geoff Brigham said, "Our aim in filing this suit is to end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world."
ACLU lawyers alleged that NSA surveillance of Americans' online searches, emails and web browsing conducted under a law called the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 constitutes an invasion of privacy and violates Fourth Amendment and First Amendment rights.
They credited whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosures from 2013 for exposing the so-called upstream surveillance that taps into the fiber-optic infrastructure of Internet communications. Past legal actions taken by Internet companies such as Twitter and Yahoo have challenged the government over requests for user information.
The lawyers also released a slide from an NSA presentation leaked by Snowden that shows the agency had identified Wikipedia as a potential spying target.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, along with the executive director of Wikimedia Foundation, Lila Tretikov, wrote an in an op-ed published Tuesday in The New York Times that every month, 500 million people use their online encyclopedia, which is based on the work of volunteers around the world, many of whom contribute entries about controversial issues or live in countries with repressive governments and therefore prefer to stay anonymous.
"These volunteers should be able to do their work without having to worry that the United States government is monitoring what they read and write. Unfortunately, their anonymity is far from certain because, using upstream surveillance, the NSA intercepts and searches virtually all of the international text-based traffic that flows across the Internet 'backbone' inside the United States," they wrote, referring to the physical network of fiber-optic cables.
The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, Global Fund for Women, The Nation Magazine, The Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America.