This week, the joint organization of Wikipedia and their subsidiary Wikimedia announced they would be launching an official lawsuit against the National Security Agency in a United States court of law.
The lawsuit will seek to challenge the basic constitutionality of the NSA’s actions, focusing specifically on their mass surveillance efforts through programs such as PRISM, MUSCULAR, and XKeyscore.
“By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, wrote in a blog post on its website. “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.”
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wasted no time after the lawsuit was filed to put out a full-page opinion editorial in the New York Times, which carefully explained why his organization was so keen to take on the government.
“Whenever someone overseas views or edits a Wikipedia page, it’s likely that the N.S.A. 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 and Tretikov wrote. “These activities are sensitive and private: They can reveal everything from a person’s political and religious beliefs to sexual orientation and medical conditions.”
Wales cited that the NSA’s programs put a damper on free speech, a right guaranteed by the first amendment in the Constitution. It caused users of the net to question themselves or the content of their searches, and prevents the next generation from viewing the web as the safe, open harbor of information that most of us had the pleasure of growing up with.
The landmark lawsuit will signify the first moment that a private company has attempted to humble the NSA for its actions, and could set a precedent for hundreds of other communities to follow once we see what happens when the largest source of free information on the Internet takes on the largest vacuum of private knowledge in the Western Hemisphere.
Specifically, Wales and Wikipedia are going to take the agency to town over the use of a program called Upstream, which was used to tap into the fiber optic backbones of many of the top technology companies on the web, Wiki’s network included.
Of course, it’s far from being the first the first time Wikipedia has shown themselves to be a beacon of activism on the net.
For every bill that sought to diminish the rights of users for a free and open Internet, SOPA, CISPA, and its many variations, Wikipedia has staged a public protest that either restricted content or plastered every page with information that users could click on to get themselves informed on the legislation.
Several other privacy advocates have come forward to support Wikipedia in its upcoming litigation, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty international.