Submissions:2018/Fighting Government Mass Surveillance: Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA

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This submission has been accepted for WikiConference North America 2018.

Fighting Government Mass Surveillance: Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA
Theme (optional)
Harassment, Civility, & Safety
Academic Peer Review option
Type of submission
Jim Buatti, Aeryn Palmer, Eileen Hershenov
E-mail address,,
Wikimedia username
Jbuatti_(WMF), APalmer_(WMF), EHershenov_(WMF)
Affiliation(s) (optional)
Jim, Aeryn and Eileen are, respectively, Legal Counsel, Senior Legal Counsel, and General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation.

In 2015, the Wikimedia Foundation sued the U.S. National Security Agency, challenging its massive, warrantless electronic surveillance practice known as “Upstream.” Upstream surveillance indiscriminately collects internet communications, including communications by Wikimedia users and contributors that could reveal what they are reading and editing. Among other things, the Foundation's lawsuit alleges violations of the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The presentation will briefly provide background on Upstream surveillance. It will outline the case, its significance, and some of the history of U.S. government surveillance, as well as situating the case in the Foundation’s work protecting the privacy of Wikimedia users. It will also discuss the role of the lawsuit in our work against censorship and other government actions that can diminish the use of, and the content on, Wikimedia projects.

Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA is one of the most important ongoing legal cases challenging US government surveillance, and is currently nearing the completion of the “discovery” phase. The American Civil Liberties Union and pro bono private counsel are representing us, working closely with the Foundation’s internal Legal, Audiences, Community Engagement, and Tech departments. It is the most consequential lawsuit in which the Wikimedia Foundation has ever been involved.

The case was originally dismissed by the trial court, but reinstated by the Court of Appeals, which held that Wikimedia alone of the original nine co-plaintiffs likely had “standing” -- that is, made a probable showing that communications of Wikimedians had been collected -- to continue the case. The presentation will detail the elements of the case, discuss why it is key to upholding Wikimedia values, and why we still have an uphill battle. Our goal is not only to inform the Wikimedia community, but to discuss how we can educate the broader public.

Length of presentation
30 minutes -- with a request that we be allowed to extend to 45 minutes for discussion.
Special requests
See above request for an additional 15 minutes for discussion.
Preferred room size
Have you presented on this topic previously? If yes, where/when?
Yes. Presentations made at Yale Law School / Information Society Project in 2017 and 2018; presentations at Media Law Resource Center meeting 2017; presentations at Wikimedia staff events 2017, 2018.
If you will be incorporating a slidedeck during your presentation, do you agree to upload it to Commons before your session, with a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license, including suitable attribution in the slidedeck for any images used?
No, with caveats: we are certainly happy to commit to posting a deck and CC BY-SA 4.0 licensing it. However, because this talk discusses ongoing litigation, we would prefer to post the deck shortly afterwards, if at all possible.
Will you attend WikiConference North America if your submission is not accepted?
Unfortunately, we likely will not be able to attend if the submission is not accepted, because of budgetary restrictions.

Interested attendees

If you are interested in attending this session, please sign with your username below. This will help reviewers to decide which sessions are of high interest. Sign with four tildes. (~~~~).

  1. Gamaliel (talk) 18:53, 15 August 2018 (UTC)
  2. Imzadi 1979  02:29, 16 August 2018 (UTC)
  3. Slowking3 (talk)
  4. TJones (WMF) (talk) 20:32, 21 August 2018 (UTC)
  5. Minh Nguyễn 💬 06:31, 23 August 2018 (UTC)
  6. Sbbarker19 (talk) 01:31, 2 September 2018 (UTC)
  7. Katietalk 16:05, 12 September 2018 (UTC)
  8. JNova7 (talk) 01:49, 18 September 2018 (UTC)
  9. Khwang (talk) 16:17, 26 September 2018 (UTC)