The NSA is monitoring large swaths of traffic on the Internet, and now Wikipedia is filing a lawsuit to try and stop it. The online encyclopedia's founders believe that widespread Internet surveillance could have a damaging effect on freedom of expression on the Web.
Our lawsuit says that the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance of Internet traffic on American soil — often called “upstream” surveillance — violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects the right to privacy, as well as the First Amendment, which protects the freedoms of expression and association. We also argue that this agency activity exceeds the authority granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that Congress amended in 2008.
Upstream surveillance refers to the NSA's ability to monitor Internet traffic that travels through the U.S. on the networks that connect sites like Wikipedia to users around the world. According to Wikipedia, it's not the only prominent organization affected by this surveillance, either. The website cites documents exposed by Edward Snowden that showed Wikipedia, Gmail, Facebook and CNN.com were all surveillance targets.
Around 500 million people use Wikipedia every month. And, many of them use the site anonymously to update the world on scary political situations in their home countries. For instance, many people used Wikipedia during the Arab Spring in 2011 to update the world about what was going on. Very often, these users are risking their own personal safety in order to share information that's frowned upon by their government.
That's why widespread NSA surveillance is such a problem. If these people feel their anonymity is not protected, they could choose to stop sharing news, stories and other important information in order to protect themselves. That's a major loss for millions of readers across the Internet.
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 N.S.A. 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.
Hopefully, the lawsuit is successful so that free speech and expression are protected on the Internet.