Mar 10, 2015 · 1 minute

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the Department of Justice and the National Security Agency to challenge the NSA's mass surveillance programs.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation and a "broad coalition of educational, human rights, legal, and media organizations." It alleges that collecting data as it travels along United States infrastructure violates constitutional rights.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Wikimedia Foundation executive director Lila Tretikov explain the reason they filed the lawsuit in a piece for the New York Times:

The notion that the N.S.A. is monitoring Wikipedia’s users is not, unfortunately, a stretch of the imagination. One of the documents revealed by the whistle-blower Edward J. Snowden specifically identified Wikipedia as a target for surveillance, alongside several other major websites like, Gmail and Facebook. The leaked slide from a classified PowerPoint presentation declared that monitoring these sites could allow N.S.A. analysts to learn 'nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.'

The harm to Wikimedia and the hundreds of millions of people who visit our websites is clear: Pervasive surveillance has a chilling effect. It stifles freedom of expression and the free exchange of knowledge that Wikimedia was designed to enable.

At issue is so-called "upstream surveillance" that collects data as it travels along the Internet's backbone -- which happens to be in the US -- without a warrant. ACLU said in today's announcement that this practice "Flips the Constitution on its head" and "Allows the government to search everything first and ask questions later."

The NSA has often been criticized for its ability to conduct warrantless surveillance. It has also been sued over its mass surveillance programs before. Yet those programs continue, and it seems unlikely that this suit will end any differently.

Still, at least when someone asks what people did to stop the government's spying, these groups can say they challenged over-reaching programs in the courts. Better to go down fighting than to simply accept a world without any real privacy.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]