The nonprofit behind Wikipedia can’t challenge a U.S. national security program for tracking communications online in search of foreign intelligence because the legal tussle risks revealing state secrets, a federal appeals court ruled.
Allowing the lawsuit to continue “would unjustifiably risk the disclosure of privileged information,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Wednesday.
The suit from the Wikimedia Foundation is one of a long-running series of legal challenges to national security surveillance programs, which have expanded over the years as part of the U.S. war on terrorism.
The foundation sued the National Security Agency in 2015 over the agency’s alleged use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to collect communications, including those of Americans, as they move across the internet’s so-called “backbone” of transmission lines that carry data into and out of the U.S.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland initially tossed the lawsuit because Wikimedia couldn’t show, based on public information, that its communications had been intercepted.
The Fourth Circuit earlier revived Wikimedia’s challenge, only to later dismiss it out of a concern for state secrets.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups argued that government monitoring of online communications violates the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Wikimedia also alleged a violation of the First Amendment because the organization says it has self-censored its speech due to the surveillance.
The case is Wikimedia Found. v. Nat’l Sec. Agency, 4th Cir., No. 20-01191, ruling issued 9/15/21.