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CATCH 22

Wikimedia lost its secret spying lawsuit against the NSA because it couldn’t prove the secret spying

Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang

Reporter

Ever since Edward Snowden dropped details on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) extensive mass surveillance programs in 2013, the group has been hit by lawsuit after lawsuit. But they’ve all been shot down on the grounds that plaintiffs don’t have enough evidence of the agency’s spying. The latest case, one of the biggest yet, just failed for the same reason.

Wikimedia, the non-profit that runs the free internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, partnered earlier this year with eight other organizations—including Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, and The Nation magazine—to sue the NSA for violating citizens’ constitutional rights. The groups were all represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that NSA surveillance practices “far exceed the already broad authority granted by the US Congress.”

On Friday (Oct. 23), a US district judge ruled this argument “unpersuasive” and “riddled with assumptions.”

“Plaintiffs cannot provide a sufficient factual basis for their allegations because the scope and scale of Upstream surveillance remains classified, leaving plaintiffs to prop their allegations of actual injury on suppositions and speculation about how Upstream surveillance must operate,” the judge, TS Ellis III, wrote in his decision. (Upstream surveillance is the NSA’s collection of telephone and online data from the internet backbone.)

Essentially, the ruling says Wikimedia and the other organizations don’t have legal standing to challenge NSA surveillance activities because they can’t be sure exactly what those activities are.

While Ellis admitted that it’s difficult for anyone to gather information about illegal spying, he noted that achieving standing in these kinds of civil cases is meant to be tough, and that ”such difficulty comes with the territory.” Better luck next time.

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