Suit by Wikimedia and partners targets American mass surveillance

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland. U.S. government photo, public domain
National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland. U.S. government photo, public domain

A law suit aimed at mass surveillance was filed Tuesday against America’s  National Security Agency and Department of Justice, by the Wikimedia Foundation and eight other complainants.

“The surveillance exceeds the scope of the authority that Congress provided in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (“FAA”) and violates the First and Fourth Amendments,” stated the suit, filed in Maryland. “Because it is predicated on programmatic surveillance orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”) in the absence of any case or controversy, the surveillance also violates Article III of the Constitution.”

 A statement from Wikimedia said the suit challenges the NSA’s large-scale search and seizure of internet communications, and aims “to end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world.”

“Surveillance erodes the original promise of the internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in the statement.

“Wikipedia is founded on the freedoms of expression, inquiry, and information,” said foundation executive director Lila Tretikov. “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 joint suit was filed by the Wikimedia Foundation; the U.S. National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers;  Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; PEN American Centre; the Global Fund for Women; the Nation Magazine; the Rutherford Institute; and the Washington Office on Latin America. 

The defendants are the U.S. National Security Agency; NSA director Adm. Michael S. Rogers; the office of the Director of National Intelligence and its director James R. Clapper; U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder.

Excerpt of the statement:

Privacy is the bedrock of individual freedom. It is a universal right that sustains the freedoms of expression and association. These principles enable inquiry, dialogue, and creation and are central to Wikimedia’s vision of empowering everyone to share in the sum of all human knowledge. When they are endangered, our mission is threatened. If people look over their shoulders before searching, pause before contributing to controversial articles, or refrain from sharing verifiable but unpopular information, Wikimedia and the world are poorer for it. …

Our case today challenges the NSA’s use of upstream surveillance conducted under the authority of the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FAA). Upstream surveillance taps the internet’s “backbone” to capture communications with “non-U.S. persons.” The FAA authorizes the collection of these communications if they fall into the broad category of “foreign intelligence information” that includes nearly any information that could be construed as relating to national security or foreign affairs. The program casts a vast net, and as a result, captures communications that are not connected to any “target,” or may be entirely domestic. This includes communications by our users and staff.


Read the full Wikimedia Foundation statement here:

Read the legal suit, Case 1:15-cv-00662-RDB Document 1 filed in U.S. District Court, District of Maryland, here:

Q&A: Why is the Wikimedia Foundation suing the NSA? ACLU blog post:

Reports elsewhere, by Reuters; Politico; Guardian;  PC Magazine; Time Magazine

Related stories on F&O:

Spy scandal confirms Germans’ growing mistrust of Washington, July, 2014, Jonathan Manthorpe column (paywall)

Privacy Tools: Encrypt What You Can, May 2014

What Edward Snowden said to European Parliamentarians,  March 2014

Privacy Tools: How to Safely Browse the Web, January, 2014

Evidence lacking in U.S. claim that NSA thwarted attacks, October, 2013


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