Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, evidently doesn’t think his phone is bugged yet. He’s fixing that with a lawsuit against the NSA and the US Department of Justice challenging the government’s mass surveillance program.
Filed Tuesday, Wikipedia alleges the NSA’s mass surveillance of Internet traffic in the United States, dubbed Upstream surveillance, violates the first and fourth amendment. For those that missed Schoolhouse Rock, the first amendment deals with freedom of speech, and the fourth on unreasonable search and seizure.
Wikipedia is joined by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in the suit. The NSA’s Upstream system is designed to capture communications with ‘non-US persons’ for signals intercepts.
“By tapping the backbone of the internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation wrote in a blog post.
“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.”
According to the lawsuit, the program exceeds the authority granted to the NSA in the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Congress passed in 2008.
Since Edward Snowden revealed the mass surveillance programs, US tech companies have been reeling as they work to shore up protections against warrantless intrusions by various US intel agencies.
Will the lawsuit work? That’s iffy. Most of what they are challenging is classified above top secret. Getting it into open court goes to sources and methods. Courts normally side with the government on matters like this.
Does it need to work? Absolutely. Unfortunately, Americans have stopped caring about this story. There’s a gold Apple watch that costs over $10k. Our Internet ADD has moved us past this story.
Wikipedia vs United States
Wikipedia released a FAQ on why they are targeting the NSA. If you believe in the Bill of Rights, you will be nodding in agreement throughout.
Q: What does this lawsuit challenge?
A: Our lawsuit challenges the NSA’s unfounded, large-scale search and seizure of internet communications, frequently referred to as “upstream” surveillance. Using upstream surveillance, the NSA intercepts virtually all internet communications flowing across the network of high-capacity cables, switches, and routers that make up the internet’s “backbone.” This backbone connects the Wikimedia global community of readers and contributors to Wikipedia and the other the Wikimedia projects.
Q: What kind of Wikimedia communications could the NSA be intercepting?
A: Wikipedia and its sister projects is created entirely by volunteer editors. More than 75,000 editors each month edit Wikipedia, amounting to more than 33 million articles. These editors not only contribute content, but also discuss and share information on discussion pages and elsewhere within the project. Privacy and free expression are core values of the Wikimedia community. When volunteer editors contribute to Wikipedia, they expect it to be a safe, open space in which creativity and knowledge can thrive.
Q: Why is the NSA interested in the communications of innocent Wikimedia users?
A: You would have to ask them. One could guess, however, that they are trying to amass as much information as possible into their databases, and, as with other websites, they may believe there is value in the data, conversations, and personal information on Wikipedia and in the Wikimedia community.
What Wikipedia and others have going against them is time. The United States government has all the time in the world. And money. They can play this out in courts for years and years. Throw up any number of obstacles. Still, if it gets Americans talking about government overreach, it’s a good thing regardless of the outcome.