Our core values of freedom of expression and access to information can be threatened by laws that compromise user privacy. For this reason, the Wikimedia Foundation has joined the fight against online surveillance.
In 2013, we joined the Digital Due Process Coalition (DDPC), an organization focused on reforming the United States Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). ECPA specifies standards for law enforcement access to electronic communications and associated data, thereby providing a degree of privacy to users of digital communication services. However, ECPA was enacted in 1986, meaning that it does not adequately protect users anymore, and only serves to provide inconsistent standards for law enforcement when dealing with “new” technologies. The DDPC’s mission is to simplify, clarify, and unify ECPA standards—providing clearer privacy protections for users, while taking into account changes in technology and usage patterns, and preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws and protect the public.
In 2014, we signed onto the Necessary and Proportionate Principles, which support the application of human rights to mass surveillance and set forth basic principles to which governments should adhere when employing modern surveillance technologies. In March 2015, we took an even stronger stand. The Wikimedia Foundation joined eight other co-plaintiffs in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. National Security Agency over its “Upstream” mass surveillance practices, which capture communications passing through the Internet “backbone.” While the claims of all plaintiffs were originally dismissed by the district court, in May 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the Wikimedia Foundation has standing to proceed. Following further litigation at the District Court, the case returned to the Fourth Circuit. In September 2021, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the case. Two of the three judges on the panel found that we had established standing to bring our claims. However, the panel ruled that the state secrets privilege prevented the lawsuit from continuing. Please see our September 2021 statement for further details.
In October 2021, we petitioned for the case to be heard by the entire Fourth Circuit. We strongly oppose mass surveillance by any government or entity, and hope that this lawsuit becomes an important step in enacting change. For more information, see our resources page on the case.