Wikimedia sues NSA to stop it from spying on its users

People might refrain from sharing unpopular information on Wikipedia dues to mass surveillance, Wikimedia said

In an effort to stop the U.S. government from spying on Wikipedia's readers and editors, the Wikimedia Foundation will sue the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The lawsuit, due to be filed with a coalition of eight civili liberties organizations later Tuesday, challenges what Wikimedia calls the NSA's unfounded, large-scale search and seizure of internet communications. Using surveillance techniques 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, which is used by Wikimedia to connect Wikipedia readers and contributors, the organization said in a blog post signed by its senior legal counsel.

Mass surveillance on the Internet's backbone is a threat to intellectual freedom and a spirit of inquiry, two of the driving forces behind Wikimedia, it said. Wikipedia often relies on anonymous contributions from people around the world who contribute to difficult and controversial topics, such as the article on the Tiananmen Square protests or a topic on gay rights in Uganda.

Surveillance though might be used to reveal sensitive information about those contributors, creating in turn a chilling effect that deters participation and in extreme instances identifies individual users. Pervasive surveillance undermines the freedoms upon which Wikipedia and its communities are founded, it said.

"Privacy is the bedrock of individual freedom," Wikimedia said. "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."

Wikimedia will be represented in the suit by the American Civil Liberies Union and joined by campaigning organizations including The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, Pen American Center, Global Fund for Women, The Nation Magazine, The Rutherford Institute, and Washington Office on Latin America, it said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to

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Tags U.S. Department of JusticeInternet-based applications and servicesGovernment use of ITsecurityCivil lawsuitslegalU.S. National Security Agencygovernmentsocial mediainternetprivacy

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Loek Essers

IDG News Service
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