Wikimedia has filed a lawsuit on Tuesday along with several other groups against the National Security Agency or the NSA for surveillance tactics that ultimately compromise the privacy of users and websites online. While much of the attention has been on the fact that the NSA is named in the suit, the Department of Justice is also brought up in the suit for their contributions to the “upstream” surveillance.
The Wikimedia Foundation said in their official blog, “We are filing suit today on behalf of our readers and editors everywhere. Surveillance erodes the original promise of the Internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation and a place free from fear.” Privacy concerns have been at the center of many NSA investigations – citing that the agency often uses tactics that are less than legal, and that the scope of their investigations is often limitless. Meaning that the NSA can go after any information, or any organization it chooses.
This though isn’t something that simply popped up out of nowhere. In fact, Wikimedia has been considering legal action like this for a number of years now – and the start of the conversation likely happened in 2013 when NSA practices were publicly disclosed for the first time – creating a lot of alarm and concern.
Wikimedia went on to point out in that blog post that “By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy. 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.”
A lot of conversations about the Internet and the programs that the NSA executes start around tapping the “backbone” of the Internet. That really refers to the collection and large-scale seizure of communications on the Internet. Ultimately, this would be similar to a company giving someone a blank check to spend as they see fit. While there might be some usefulness that comes of it, at the end of the day – the risk, invasion of privacy, and circumvention of the legal process – are just a few of the concerns that exist within the NSA’s practices.
Users of the Internet want to feel secure, and with policies and procedures like this it really becomes challenging to feel secure on the Internet. Especially when criminals are not the only ones manipulating or digging for information that could be used against individuals. If the NSA had specific policies and procedures they had to follow in obtaining different pieces of the communication record on the Internet – the issues that people and organizations like Wikimedia have with it – would be significantly reduced.