The Wikimedia Foundation has launched a lawsuit against the U.S. National Security Agency and Department of Justice, accusing the agencies of violating the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution with the “mass surveillance of Internet traffic on American soil.”
The lawsuit, filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Wikimedia, and a number of other groups including Amnesty International USA, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and The Nation magazine, challenges the “dragnet” spying of the NSA infringes on the rights of all Americans.
The lawsuit accuses the NSA of intercepting and copying large swathes of private communications while they are in transit, and then searching the contents of the collection using tens of thousands of keywords associated with NSA targets.
“As our lawsuit explains, the NSA is exceeding even the authority granted by the FISA Amendments Act,” said ACLU staff attorney Patrick Toomey in a blog post.
“Rather than limit itself to monitoring Americans’ communications with the foreign targets, the NSA is spying on everyone, trying to find out who might be talking or reading about those targets. As a result, countless innocent people will be caught up in the NSA’s massive net.”
The accusations of the lawsuit do have merit. In the summer of 2013, just a few months after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing the agency’s surveillance programs, the NSA was chastised by a federal judge for searching the international Internet communications of Americans without a warrant.
Judge John D. Bates, in his 85-page ruling for the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), called the agency’s three-year “upstream collection of Internet transactions containing multiple communications” deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds, adding that it did not “satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”
In 2008, a law was passed permitting warrantless surveillance on American networks, but only to keep track of non-U.S. citizens outside its boarders. The NSA was able to redirect a substantial amount of international data from fiber cables throughout the U.S. into a data center, where it could be stored and scrutinized. The problem was, domestic communications were also being collected in the pursuit of foreign intelligence.
And it is these actions that have Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales seeing red.
“Whenever someone overseas views or edits a Wikipedia page, it’s likely that the NSA is tracking that activity — including the content of what was read or typed, as well as other information that can be linked to the person’s physical location and possible identity,” Wales wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times. “These activities are sensitive and private: They can reveal everything from a person’s political and religious beliefs to sexual orientation and medical conditions.
“The notion that the NSA is monitoring Wikipedia’s users is not, unfortunately, a stretch of the imagination,” he added. “One of the documents revealed by the whistleblower Edward J. Snowden specifically identified Wikipedia as a target for surveillance, alongside several other major websites like CNN.com, Gmail and Facebook. The leaked slide from a classified PowerPoint presentation declared that monitoring these sites could allow N.S.A. analysts to learn ‘nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet’.”
Neither the NSA nor the DoJ has commented on the lawsuit.