A lawsuit filed some time ago by the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikimedia, challenged the National Security agency’s ability to intercept the international internet communications of its users. The foundation alleged that this is a violation of the rights of the company and the privacy of its users. A federal court later dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds of state secrets. While the Wikimedia company foundation appealed the verdict to a federal appeals court, the dismissal was upheld.
Even though the ruling was divided, the 4th United States Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the lawsuit needed to be dismissed because the government invoked the privilege of state secrets. What this means is that the United States National Security Agency alleged that if the issue was fully explored in a court of law, that national security interests might be harmed.
In contrast, the Wikimedia Corporation alleged that the interception of its communications by the National Security Agency violated the company’s first amendment rights to free speech. Furthermore, the company alleged that the seizure of internal communications also violated the fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
There are some people, including dissenting judges on the Circuit Court of Appeals, that believe the ruling creates a precedent that government agencies may be able to illegally seize a significant amount of information from businesses under the guise of “state secrets”. While it is not clear if this will happen, Wikimedia is not the only entity that is concerned about this possibility. Some people are concerned that the courts are placing state secrets above the rights of individual internet users.
Given the ubiquity of the internet in communications today, this issue is likely to come up again. This case has been working its way through the courts since 2015, and it has been revived and dismissed multiple times. As a National Security Agency continues to collect information on users both inside and outside the United States, it will be interesting to see if future courts abide by the ruling that has been set by the Federal Court as well as the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The privacy of internet users everywhere could be in question.