Wikimedia and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stepped up today to defend online privacy, with a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) on First and Fourth Amendment grounds. A previous version of the suit, by Amnesty International, was rejected by the Supreme Court due to lack of appropriate standing to sue.
Perhaps your mental picture of a Wikipedian is some dude in a basement obsessively refreshing the George R.R. Martin entry to make sure the Game of Thrones author is still breathing, in between updating pages in the Wiki of Ice and Fire to reflect the LS+RT=JS theory. Well, that guy definitely exists (and he's performing a valuable service, in my opinion). I'm not sure he'd be deterred by revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden that the government specifically targeted Wikipedia in its online surveillance.
But what about these editors?:
During the 2011 Arab uprisings, Wikipedia users collaborated to create articles that helped educate the world about what was happening. Continuing cooperation between American and Egyptian intelligence services is well established; the director of Egypt's main spy agency under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi boasted in 2013 that he was "in constant contact" with the Central Intelligence Agency.
So imagine, now, a Wikipedia user in Egypt who wants to edit a page about government opposition or discuss it with fellow editors. If that user knows the N.S.A. is routinely combing through her contributions to Wikipedia, and possibly sharing information with her government, she will surely be less likely to add her knowledge or have that conversation, for fear of reprisal.
Multiply that by 500 million users, nearly all of whom have something to hide—even if it's just an unhealthy obsession with Daenerys Targaryen—and watch the chilling effect set in:
And then imagine this decision playing out in the minds of thousands of would-be contributors in other countries. That represents a loss for everyone who uses Wikipedia and the Internet—not just fellow editors, but hundreds of millions of readers in the United States and around the world.
The online encyclopedia we all rely on for, let's face it, pretty much 100 percent of our information about everything, is being steadily, quietly, inexorably made worse by government spying. That's reason enough to shut the whole program down. (And if that doesn't convince you, the contents of this issue might.)
Pissed off that the NSA is messing with your Wikipedia? Here, let this Remy slow jam calm you down:
Oh, that didn't help? How about the trailer for the new season of Game of Thrones?