Wikimedia Sues NSA Over Mass Spying, and it Matters

Better late than never, as they say. And this time, Wikimedia Foundation, the creators of world’s largest free online encyclopedia have sued NSA and US Department of Justice over mass spying and surveillance. The news was recently announced in the Wikimedia Foundation blog :

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation is filing suit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) of the United States. The lawsuit challenges the NSA’s mass surveillance program, and specifically its large-scale search and seizure of internet communications — frequently referred to asupstreamsurveillance. Our aim in filing this suit is to end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world. We are joined by eight other organisations and represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

NSA doing mass surveillance using PRISM and violating privacy of the users is nothing new. A couple of years ago, Snowden documents revealed that the program has been specially targeting four sites in general, Facebook, Gmail, Wikipedia and CNN. While it may seem trivial, it is important to note that one can know whatever an user is doing in the Internet by just monitoring these few top sites. Some sites like Facebook want you to be identified by your true identity, thus making surveillance easier, while others like Wikipedia does not require you to login to view content. If however you may want, you can open an account with any name you like and mask your identity that way.

It may be noted that the surveillance program of NSA is not limited to US users only, but in-fact all users of the world.

Why Online Privacy Matters

A lot many people do not care about online privacy, as evident from the large amount of data they share from their private lives on various social sites. While you and I may have nothing to hide, some people do have. These people maybe journalists, whistleblowers, political activists, politicians, diplomats, spies, defence personnel and people who make the governance running. For the same reason, NIC, the organisation behind e-governance initiatives in India, forced government employees to use NICs own email instead of third party email providers this year.

Privacy is important for these people, and their communications rely solely on that. Another chief issue is that US has monopoly over this surveillance, and it may happen that they can misuse it against any individuals or community that they think are involved in anti US activities. The problem is - all of this lies in the hands of some people. So even if they want to accuse someone falsely, nothing’s there to stop them!

Internet users never need to worry about privacy till a few years before. The web was a nice medium of free expression of thoughts, and free speech prevailed in this medium to the maximum extent. Then came tracking activities of several entities, especially social networks. In order to know more and more about the users, these sites began tracking every click, every like, every page visit or everything you write. Facebook might even be tracking what you wrote in post box, but did not post. For increasing revenues, these sites began violating the fundamental rights every human must have, the right to free speech and the right to privacy.

It is not surprising that these sites are often forced to submit the data they collect from users to NSA and other government agencies, thus making surveillance on Internet users even easier.

Hope Is Around The Corner

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia said on Quora that he is thrilled by his legal team and is quite sure that they will win the suit and end mass surveillance. But thankfully, that’s not the only thing you can do. If you are a website owner, you can activate HTTPS on your website that will ensure any communication between you and your visitors are encrypted. If you are a netizen, use HTTPS Everywhere extension on your browser to visit every website on a privacy protected way. For extreme protection, consider using a VPN or Tor. Now, that might sound like we are going too far, getting paranoid. But just in case you have something which needs to be private, there are options, disposable at will.

A study even suggests that young people do actually care more about their privacy and are more likely to switch product or services if they are wary about it. For the same reason, you will see 16 years olds dumping Facebook and switching to Snapchat in large numbers. So it may seem while we may not worry about our privacy so much, out next generations will and will raise their voices more to end this tyranny online.

Wikipedia might be one of the world’s largest websites but is not driven by a profit oriented behemoth running under the control of the control freaks. A step taken in the direction of privacy by Wikimedia is important to all who care. And everyone should.