Organisations including the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, have filed a lawsuit against the NSA and the US Department of Justice over its surveillance programmes.
The lawsuit was filed on the organisations' behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, and says that the agency's monitoring of internet traffic violates the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and association for Americans. The ACLU also says that the monitoring goes against the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.
The complaint relates to the NSA's “Upstream” programme, which listened in on communications from people outside of the US. The programme allows the NSA to store and search through internet traffic, looking for what it says are dangerous keywords but without warrants.
“This kind of dragnet surveillance constitutes a massive invasion of privacy, and it undermines the freedoms of expression and inquiry as well,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Patrick Toomey. “Ordinary Americans shouldn't have to worry that the government is looking over their shoulders when they use the Internet.”
As well as the Wikimedia Foundation, the ACLU is acting on behalf of the conservative Rutherford Institute, The Nation magazine, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Global Fund for Women, and Washington Office on Latin America. Together, they argue that the monitoring interferes with their ability to do their jobs, which require them to conduct sensitive communications with people around the world.
The lawsuit has been filed in Maryland, where the NSA is based. It partly follows a case in the supreme court, where the ACLU challenged the NSA's wiretapping programme, which the US Supreme Court dismissed in 2013 through a 5-4 vote.
That vote was dismissed because the plaintiffs could not prove they had been spied on. But Edward Snowden has said that decision was part of what prompted him to leak confidential NSA documents to the press soon after — and since, groups have been made aware that they may have been part of other forms of spying and searching.