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Victory at the Fourth Circuit: Court of Appeals allows Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA to proceed

Photo by Activedia, CC0.

Today, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, handed down its decision in Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency, holding that the Wikimedia Foundation may further pursue our claims against the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and other defendants. This marks an important victory for the privacy and free expression rights of Wikimedia users.

We joined eight co-plaintiffs in filing this lawsuit in March 2015, to challenge government mass surveillance and stand up for the privacy and free expression rights of Wikimedia users. The lawsuit specifically targets the NSA’s Upstream surveillance practices, which capture communications crossing the internet backbone. The free exchange of knowledge is threatened when Wikimedia users fear being watched as they search, read, or edit the Wikimedia projects.

Back in October 2015, Judge T.S. Ellis III of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed the case for lack of standing, a legal concept referring to a plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate that they have suffered an injury that the courts can redress. We promptly appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision is complex: the Court vacated the lower court’s ruling with respect to the Wikimedia Foundation, and remanded the case back to the District of Maryland for further proceedings. A 2-1 majority found that the Wikimedia Foundation demonstrated standing in the case, but that the other plaintiffs did not. The dissenting judge would have found that all nine plaintiffs had standing. We, our co-plaintiffs, and our counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), will carefully review the opinion and determine the next steps for our case.

This marks an important step forward in Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA, and a victory for upholding the rights of privacy and free expression for Wikimedia users. We stand ready to continue this fight. A more detailed blog post, with further information about the case and opinion is forthcoming, and we will keep members of the Wikimedia communities updated on the lawsuit. For more information about mass surveillance, Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA, and our other efforts to protect user privacy, please see our resources page about the case, or visit the ACLU.

Jim Buatti, Legal Counsel
Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel
Wikimedia Foundation

Special thanks to all who have supported us in this litigation, including the ACLU’s Patrick Toomey, Alex Abdo, and Ashley Gorski; and Aarti Reddy, Patrick Gunn, and Ben Kleine of our pro bono counsel Cooley, LLP; and the Wikimedia Foundation’s Zhou Zhou.

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