T oday, 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 their 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.
Wikimedia 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 their 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. Wikimedia 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. Wikimedia, their co-plaintiffs, and their counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), will carefully review the opinion and determine the next steps for their 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. Wikimedia stands ready to continue this fight.