Wikipedia’s parent group, Wikimedia Foundation, is suing the US National Security Agency (NSA) for what it dubs the “suspicionless seizure and searching of internet traffic by the agency on US soil”.
The legal action has been filed by Wikimedia and eight other groups against the NSA and the Department of Justice (DoJ), in a federal court in Maryland, where the spy agency is based.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, said that Wikimedia is filing the suit on behalf of Wikipedia’s readers and editors everywhere.
“Surveillance erodes the original promise of the internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear,” he said.
In its official complaint, Wikimedia said that the NSA conducts its “upstream” surveillance by tapping directly into the internet backbone inside the US.
It described this backbone as “the network of high-capacity cables, switches, and routers that today carry vast numbers of Americans’ communications with each other and with the rest of the world”.
By intercepting traffic, the NSA is seizing Americans’ communications en masse while they are in transit, said Wikimedia, and this surveillance “exceeds the scope of the authority that congress provided in the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008 and violates the First and Fourth Amendments”.
In a blog post, the foundation’s legal counsel said that the FAA authorises the collection of these communications if they fall into the broad category of “foreign intelligence information”, which includes any data that could be construed as relating to national security or foreign affairs.
“The programme 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,” the organisation added.
Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said that “by tapping the backbone of the internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy”.
The organisation said that when Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents about the NSA’s activities back in 2013, it was “rightfully alarmed”.
In 2014, Wikimedia began conversations with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about the possibility of filing a suit against the NSA and other defendants on behalf of the foundation, its staff and its users.
It said that the NSA is threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.
“The NSA has interpreted the FAA as offering free rein to define threats, identify targets, and monitor people, platforms and infrastructure with little regard for probable cause or proportionality,” Wikimedia’s legal counsel said.
The NSA and DoJ have yet to comment on the legal action.