Wikipedia takes on the NSA

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Online free encyclopedia, Wikipedia–one of the most visited websites in the world–is suing the NSA over violating the First and Fourth Amendments.

Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, announced the lawsuit in a scathing op-ed in The New York Times earlier this week.

“Today, we’re filing a lawsuit against the National Security Agency to protect the rights of the 500 million people who use Wikipedia every month,” said Wales. “We’re doing so because a fundamental pillar of democracy is at stake: the free exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

Wales alleges that the NSA’s mass surveillance of the Internet–as exposed last year by former NSA contractor and whistleblower, Edward Snowden–violate the right to privacy in the Fourth Amendment, as well as freedom of expression in the First Amendment.

Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopedia–meaning that tens of thousands of volunteers online, mostly anonymous, are the ones who write and edit Wikipedia entries. Wales feels that, because of interference from the NSA, the U.S. Government is dramatically curtailing constitutionally-protected freedom.

Wales cites a specific example of the NSA’s “chilling effect” on free speech:

“During the 2011 Arab uprisings, Wikipedia users collaborated to create articles that helped educate the world about what was happening. Continuing cooperation between American and Egyptian intelligence services is well established; the director of Egypt’s main spy agency under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi boasted in 2013 that he was ‘in constant contact’ with the Central Intelligence Agency.

So imagine, now, a Wikipedia user in Egypt who wants to edit a page about government opposition or discuss it with fellow editors. If that user knows the NSA is routinely combing through her contributions to Wikipedia, and possibly sharing information with her government, she will surely be less likely to add her knowledge or have that conversation, for fear of reprisal.
And then imagine this decision playing out in the minds of thousands of would-be contributors in other countries. That represents a loss for everyone who uses Wikipedia and the Internet — not just fellow editors, but hundreds of millions of readers in the United States and around the world.”

So far, the U.S. Department of Justice has little to say. A spokeswoman, Nicole Navas, said via email that the department is “reviewing the complaint,” but did not elaborate.

This kind of lawsuit by a major online player–if it manages to get traction–could have a dramatic impact on the future of free speech on the Internet, as well as the future of the NSA’s spying efforts here in America.

If anything, it reveals just how impactful Edward Snowden’s leaks have been–and how willing the American people are to stand up to government intrusions of freedom.
sorry, got cut off there.

  • Mike

    Yeah!! Edward Snowden!!

  • ejs

    This whole electronic spying thing is a tough call. We KNOW that our enemies use the internet to communicate and recruit. Our enemies know that, because of our obsession with privacy and our fear of abuses of power by an excessively powerful central government (not bad things), they can count on us to help keep their lines of communication open and secure. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. As a contributor to Wikipedia, I both applaud their stand and at the same time, wish they wouldn’t squander my contributions on lawyers. Maybe some of the thousands of brilliant people who contribute to Wikipedia could spend some time looking for solutions to the security vs freedom dilemma that, I’m sure, our enemies find hysterical.

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