Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales laid out his expectations for the website’s recently filed lawsuit against the National Security Agency on Reddit Friday, where he answered questions alongside representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Wikimedia.
“A lot of politicians think that the general public doesn’t care about this issue,” Wales told the Reddit community in an “Ask Me Anything” thread, which quickly rose on Reddit’s front page Friday. “We need to make sure the general public knows about and that they do care about it — and that they make their voices heard.”
The ACLU on behalf of Wikimedia — the nonprofit organization behind the sixth most-popular website online — filed the lawsuit against the NSA and the Justice Department earlier this month. The suit focuses on ending the NSA’s “upstream” bulk data collection, or data intercepted directly from Internet infrastructure such as undersea fiber cables. (RELATED: Wikipedia Sues The NSA To End Mass Surveillance)
Wikimedia is joined by eight other organizations in the suit, which is ambitious to say the least. The ACLU will have the burden of proving the NSA knowingly targeted users and violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure.
According to the government, such collection is only conducted on “non-U.S. persons,” who have no such rights, though the ACLU and others allege the law justifying such collection includes loopholes for domestic surveillance.
Wales said his “minimum acceptable” result would be for a federal judge to rule the NSA’s mass surveillance by tapping the “backbone” of the Internet illegal.
He added that his ultimate goal was for the government to “declare that upstream surveillance is unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments, and under Article III” of the Constitution.
“Would you like your phone to be tapped without a warrant? Today, your Internet connection can be,” executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation Lila Tretikov said to drive the point home.
“This kind of dragnet surveillance, though, constitutes a gross invasion of the privacy of innocent people, and it will inevitably have a chilling effect on the freedoms of speech and inquiry,” ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer wrote. “We don’t think the NSA should be looking over innocent people’s shoulders when they’re surfing the web.”
“No one should be under the misimpression that the NSA is interested in collecting information about terrorism and nothing else. Former NSA director Michael Hayden has been forthcoming about this. He said recently: ‘NSA doesn’t just listen to bad people. NSA listens to interesting people. People who are communicating information.'”
Jaffer goes on to point out that despite the ACLU’s loss in a similar case representing Amnesty International, in which they were unable to prove the NSA targeted their communications (in part because the signals intelligence agency refused to release information, citing national security), he thinks the ACLU a better shot this time.
As Wales pointed out in the lawsuit announcement, nearly half a billion people access Wikipedia every month, and a slide included in classified intelligence documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden states Wikipedia as as surveillance target, complete with the website’s logo.
“[T]he volume of Wikimedia’s communications is so incredibly large that there is simply no way the government could conduct upstream surveillance without sweeping up a substantial number of those communications,” Jaffer said.
“I’m sure the government will argue that Clapper v. Amnesty forecloses this suit, but I don’t think this will be a very compelling argument.”