Wikipedia sues NSA, says mass surveillance threatens sum of world’s knowledge

10 Mar 2015

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia is suing the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice over what it alleges is large-scale search and seizure of internet communications.

“The lawsuit challenges the NSA’s mass surveillance program, and specifically its large-scale search and seizure of internet communications — frequently referred to as ‘upstream surveillance’,” said the Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation behind Wikipedia.

“Our aim in filing this suit is to end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world.”

Wikipedia is the online resource established by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001 and is credited with making a living breathing encyclopedia available to to billions of people around the world.

The encyclopedia is administered by a network of 69,000 active editors and as of last year had 18bn page views and more than 500m unique users every month.

The online resource contains more than 4.7m articles.

The lawsuit follows the 2013 disclosures about the NSA’s activities by rogue NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Wales said privacy is the bedrock of individual freedom.

“We’re filing suit today on behalf of our readers and editors everywhere,” said Wales.

“Surveillance erodes the original promise of the internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear.”

Fear will limit human knowledge

The Wikimedia Foundation said Wikipedia is about sharing the sum of all human knowledge. It said that when people are endangered its mission is threatened and as a result people will refrain from sharing verifiable, unpopular information and the world will be poorer for this.

In 2014, the Wikimedia Foundation began conversations with the ACLU about possibly filing a suit against the NSA.

Its case challenges the NSA’s use of upstream surveillance conducted under the authority of the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FAA).

Upstream intelligence taps the internet’s backbone to capture communications with non-US persons.

“By tapping the backbone of the internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” said Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

“Wikipedia is founded on the freedoms of expression, inquiry, and information. By violating our users’ privacy, the NSA is threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.”

Jimmy Wales image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years