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Wikimedia Sues NSA, DOJ Over Internet Surveillance

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 11, 2015 9:59 AM

Wikipedia's parent company, the Wikimedia Foundation, has filed a lawsuit claiming wholesale Internet data collection violates its constitutional rights. Wikimedia joins Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others in the suit, which names the National Security Agency (NSA) and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as defendants.

The lawsuit is partly based on information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealing the NSA's use of what is known as "Upstream surveillance," intercepting Internet communications, often without a warrant. Filed on behalf of the companies by the American Civil Liberties Union, the suit also alleges that Wikipedia was specifically a target of government surveillance.

FISA and Privacy

While the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows the government to intercept communications with foreigners living outside the United States, Wikimedia alleges the NSA and DOJ are spying on U.S. citizens as well. According to Snowden and Wikimedia's lawsuit, government agencies are monitoring the Internet's central data routes, searching for key words in all traffic and communications, including communications by American citizens.

Accurate information on data collection under FISA is hard to come by. A FISA court meets in secret to hear search warrant requests, and the Act allows the president to authorize warrantless electronic surveillance targeting foreign powers for one year. Additionally, telecommunications firms and social media companies have been either tight-lipped, vague, or even barred from talking about their cooperation with surveillance and data requests.

NSA in Court

The NSA has been in privacy advocates' crosshairs for years, and this is far from the spy agency's first legal rodeo. In the same month of 2013, one federal judge said the NSA's collection of phone records was unconstitutional, followed by another federal judge asserting it was legal. And one FISA ruling said the NSA's email collection violated the Fourth Amendment while another found its phone data program constitutional.

It seems like more admissions of NSA misconduct are only followed by more allegations of illegal NSA intrusion.

Wikimedia is asking the U.S. District Court of Maryland to declare Upstream surveillance illegal and to enjoin the NSA and DOJ from continuing to tap directly into the Internet backbone. You can read the lawsuit in its entirety on FindLaw's Scribd page.

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