Wikimedia, Other Organizations Sue NSA over Net Monitoring

The non-profit behind Wikipedia is joining with eight other organizations in a lawsuit challenging "upstream" surveillance of Internet traffic by the U.S. National Security Agency and other government bodies. Filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Maryland, the complaint alleges that such spying violates First and Fourth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and privacy.

In an op-ed piece published Tuesday in The New York Times, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Wikimedia Executive Director Lila Tretikov wrote that the lawsuit, being handled by the American Civil Liberties Union, is aimed at protecting the rights of "the 500 million people who use Wikipedia every month. We're doing so because a fundamental pillar of democracy is at stake: the free exchange of knowledge and ideas."

Other plaintiffs in the case include Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, the Global Fund for Women, The Nation magazine, the Rutherford Institute, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

Upstream surveillance, as revealed by documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, collects online communications by tapping directly into the Internet's "backbone." It differs from another program, PRISM, in which the NSA demands data on online communications from a number of major U.S.-based Internet companies.

'A New Angle'

We reached out to Alan Butler, senior counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to learn how the Wikimedia lawsuit might differ from previous complaints brought against the NSA by free-speech and privacy advocates.

"It's a very interesting case," Butler told us. "It follows on a lot of challenges to different NSA programs...(but) there's definitely a new angle here."

In a previous ACLU lawsuit against the NSA and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the challengers lacked standing to complain about NSA surveillance...

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