The ACLU and Wikipedia are Suing the NSA

'Our clients advocate for human and civil rights, unimpeded access to knowledge, and a free press'

The NSA has quickly risen to prominence as one of the most reviled government defense agencies. (Photo: Getty)

The NSA has quickly risen to prominence as one of the most reviled government defense agencies. (Photo: Getty)

Every day, millions of communications move in and out of the country, swept up and collected along the way by the NSA’s all-reaching surveillance dragnet. Every week, we learn more about both how extensive these programs are, and the frightening extent of what we might not know about what happens to these communications once they’re collected.

This morning, the ACLU filed a complaint with a Maryland district court against the NSA for this “upstream” data collection, banding together with a star-studded list of media and activist organizations, including the Wikimedia Foundation, Amnesty International and the PEN American Center.

From the ACLU’s announcement:

Our clients advocate for human and civil rights, unimpeded access to knowledge, and a free press. Their work is essential to a functioning democracy. When their sensitive and privileged communications are monitored by the U.S. government, they cannot work freely and their effectiveness is curtailed – to the detriment of Americans and others around the world.

“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,” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote in a New York Times op-ed this morning. “We also argue that this agency activity exceeds the authority granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that Congress amended in 2008.”


Unconvinced by the scale and scope of NSA surveillance? Read about the Equation Group, the most impressive NSA cyber-espionage program in history—if, that is, if was the NSA at all.


The PEN American Center, which provides refuge and services to foreign writers operating under oppressive government regimes, said they can hardly do the business of protecting writers when those writers can’t even reach out without fear of being spied on in transit.

“We believe that the lines around surveillance to be redrawn so that it doesn’t have a pernicious effect on human rights work like our own,” PEN’s Executive Director Suzanne Nossel told the Observer. “It may not be the intent of this program, but it’s the result of the program.”

This marks the second time that the PEN American Center is stepping up to file a complaint against wide-spread surveillance. Last time they filed suit, their complaint was struck down—because of the opacity of NSA programs, the judge argued that none of the plaintiffs could prove they’d been targeted, and therefore had no standing to challenge the spying programs. But every week, we learn more about how extensive the programs are, and the more that everyone is swept up in the dragnet, the longer the list of wronged parties grows.

“There’s a widespread sense that the balance is off-kilter and that these programs have gone too far,” Ms. Nossel said.

Read the full complaint by the ACLU below:

The ACLU and Wikipedia are Suing the NSA