Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA

Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA
United States District Court for the District of Maryland
Full case name Wikimedia Foundation, et al. v. National Security Agency, et al.
Judge sitting T. S. Ellis III[1]
Counsel for plaintiff(s) American Civil Liberties Union, Cooley LLP
Plaintiff(s) Wikimedia Foundation, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, Global Fund for Women, The Nation, Rutherford Institute, Washington Office on Latin America.
Defendant(s) National Security Agency, United States Department of Justice, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, in his official capacity as Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, in his official capacity as Director of National Intelligence, Department of Justice, and Eric H. Holder, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the United States.

Wikimedia Foundation, et al. v. National Security Agency, et al. is a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation and several other organizations against the National Security Agency (NSA), the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), and other named individuals, alleging mass surveillance of Wikipedia users carried out by the NSA.[2][3][4] The suit claims the surveillance system, which NSA calls "Upstream", breaches the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects freedom of speech, and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.[5]

The suit is filed in the federal District Court for the District of Maryland; the NSA is based in Fort Meade, Maryland.[6]

The plaintiffs are the Wikimedia Foundation,[7] the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, the PEN American Center, the Global Fund for Women, The Nation magazine,[8] the Rutherford Institute, and the Washington Office on Latin America.[5][9]


NSA slide referring to Wikipedia as a surveillance target

Upstream surveillance was first revealed in May 2013 by Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst.[10] A previous challenge by the ACLU, Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, failed for lack of standing, but Wikimedia and the ACLU believe their new lawsuit will succeed in the light of Snowden's disclosures, citing a classified NSA slide that specifically referred to Wikipedia.[11] Since Clapper, the government itself has confirmed many of the key facts about NSA's Upstream surveillance, including that it conducts suspicionless searches.[7] ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey noted the lawsuit is particularly relevant as the plaintiffs engage in "hundreds of billions of international communications" annually. Any program of Upstream surveillance must necessarily sweep up a substantial part of these communications.[7][12]

On August 6, 2015, the defendants brought a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs have not plausibly shown that they have been injured by Upstream collection of data and thus lack standing to sue. In response, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of libraries and booksellers.[13] Both sides presented oral arguments at a hearing on September 25, 2015.[14]

On October 23, 2015, the District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed the suit on grounds of standing. US District Judge T. S. Ellis III ruled that the plaintiffs could not plausibly prove they were subject to Upstream surveillance, echoing the 2013 decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International US.[15][16] The Wikimedia Foundation said it expected to appeal the decision. The Foundation said its complaint had merit, and that there was no question that Upstream surveillance captured the communications of both its user community and the Wikimedia Foundation itself.[17] The Electronic Frontier Foundation, who had filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, said it was perverse to dismiss a suit for lack of proof (standing) when the surveillance program complained of was secret, and urged federal courts to tackle the serious constitutional issues that Upstream surveillance presents.[18] The plaintiffs filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on February 17, 2016.[19]

See also


  1. "Wikimedia v. NSA - D. Md. Opinion | American Civil Liberties Union". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  2. "Wikimedia v. NSA: Challenge to Mass Surveillance Under the FISA Amendments Act". American Civil Liberties Union.
  3. Paulson, Michelle. "Wikimedia v. NSA: Wikimedia Foundation files suit against the NSA to challenge Upstream mass surveillance". Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  4. Wales, Jimmy; Tretikov, Lila (2015-03-10). "Stop Spying on Wikipedia Users". New York Times. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  5. 1 2 Reuters (2015-03-10). "ACLU, Wikimedia file lawsuit challenging NSA mass surveillance". Reuters. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  6. David Ingram, NSA sued by Wikimedia, rights groups over mass surveillance, Reuters (March 10, 2015).
  7. 1 2 3 Geoff Brigham and Michelle Paulson. "Wikimedia v. NSA: Standing and the Fight for Free Speech and Privacy". just Just Security.
  8. "Why 'The Nation' Is Suing the Federal Government". The Nation.
  9. Lomas, Natasha (10 March 2015). "Wikimedia Sues NSA Over Mass Surveillance". TechCrunch. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  10. Schneider, Marc. "Wikimedia vs NSA: ACLU Files Lawsuit to End Spy Agency's 'Upstream Surveillance'". Billboard.
  11. Cohn, Carolyn. "Wikipedia feels 'targeted' by NSA, co-founder says". Reuters.
  12. Gass, Nick (10 March 2015). "Wikimedia sues NSA, DOJ over mass surveillance". Politico. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  13. Crocker, Andrew. "EFF Asks Court on Behalf of Libraries and Booksellers to Recognize Readers' Right to Be Free of NSA's Online Surveillance". Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  14. Nicky Woolf (25 September 2015). "Court hears first arguments in case challenging bulk data collection by NSA". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
  15. Farivar, Cyrus. "Judge tosses Wikimedia's anti-NSA lawsuit because Wikipedia isn't big enough". Ars Technica.
  16. "Wikimedia v. NSA - D. MD. Opinion". ACLU.
  17. Michelle Paulson, Geoff Brigham,. "District court grants government's motion to dismiss Wikimedia v. NSA, appeal expected". Wikimedia Foundation.
  18. Rumold, Mark. "Wikimedia v. NSA: Another Court Blinds Itself to Mass NSA Surveillance". Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  19. "Appeal No. 15-2560. Brief for plaintiffs–appellants" (PDF). ACLU. February 17, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2016.

External links

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