PRISM, government surveillance, and Wikimedia: Request for community feedback

Last week, news outlets published information about a U.S. government internet surveillance program called PRISM[1] that reportedly enables the U.S. government to directly collect personal information from the servers of certain U.S.-based service providers.[2] Most of the service providers that were allegedly involved have denied participating in PRISM,[3] but President Obama appears to have acknowledged and defended the existence of the program.
Uncertainty and open questions persist about the nature and scope of PRISM. These public reports, and the conflicts among them, have raised concerns in the Wikimedia community, including at the Wikimedia Foundation.

Where we stand

The Wikimedia Foundation has not received requests or legal orders to participate in PRISM, to comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), or to participate in or facilitate any secret intelligence surveillance program. We also have not “changed” our systems to make government surveillance easier, as the New York Times has claimed is the case for some service providers.[4]

Why we care

Freedom of speech and access to information are core Wikimedia values. These values can be compromised by surveillance: editors and readers understandably are less willing to write and inform themselves as honestly and freely. Put simply, “rights of privacy are necessary for intellectual freedom.”
In addition, while PRISM is a United States government program, the global nature of internet traffic, and the alleged sharing of surveillance information between governments, means that Internet users around the world are potentially affected. Because of this, we feel an obligation to our entire global community of contributors and readers to further understand (and possibly respond to) this issue.

Consultation and action

Because of the many open questions about PRISM, and the potential importance of this issue to our core values, we feel it is appropriate to consult with the Wikimedia community about what next steps we might take.[5] In our opinion, governments must be transparent to their publics. This transparency is essential to our ability (and that of other like-minded organizations) to determine whether a legal or constitutional challenge is appropriate in a case like this.

Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology, among many others, have begun to work together on this issue. They have started by preparing an open letter to the U.S. Congress, calling for transparency, investigation, reform, and accountability, and have asked individuals and other interested organizations—like the Wikimedia Foundation—to join them.

As we see it, we have an important role to play in helping ensure protections for free expression and access to information as it relates to our mission.  We accordingly feel that the Wikimedia Foundation should collaborate with these organizations, and possibly others, and join in their effort to demand that the government account for and explain its internet surveillance programs.
That said, we want to hear from you on these topics before we take any action. Should we join with these organizations in their public statements and efforts as they relate to the Wikimedia community’s values and mission? Please leave your thoughts at https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/PRISM. We will consider all feedback, but, because events are moving quickly, we feel we need to make a decision on this by June 21, 2013.[6]
With our thanks,
Geoff Brigham
General Counsel, Wikimedia Foundation
[7]
[We are professionally translating this blog post and feedback page into German, French, Spanish and Japanese and hope to post by Tuesday.  With our appreciation, we ask the international Wikimedia community to help in translating this blog post and the feedback page (which are almost the same) into other languages, as well as people’s feedback given throughout the course of this consultation period.]

Notes

  1. The Washington Post and The Guardian broke the story on June 6.
  2. An early report alleged remarkable breadth of data accessible under the program. CNET has since reported, however, that the program at least involves some formalized and particularized process.
  3. TechCrunch has published denials from eight allegedly-involved organizations.
  4.  Surveillance is possible without our cooperation. As a result, snooping on general internet traffic by governments or others may affect our contributors and readers. To help block this, Wikimedia sites are already reachable under HTTPS, and installing HTTPS Everywhere makes this the default. We are working toward increasingly making HTTPS the default both for readers and logged-in users without the need to install an extension. Updates will be posted to our engineering blog.
  5. As you may know, the Wikimedia community worked with the Wikimedia Foundation to put together a policy on the Foundation’s association with certain political or policy issues. It applies when, among other things, the Wikimedia Foundation seeks to collaborate with other organizations to take action on a particular policy or political question.  Under this policy, community consultation is highly valued.
  6. This proposal is intended only to address the participation of the Wikimedia Foundation and is not intended to restrict other Wikimedians from acting in their personal capacity.
  7. Special thanks to the entire LCA team for their hard work in helping research and draft this blog post, with my special appreciation to Luis Villa, Deputy General Counsel; Matthew Collins, Legal Intern; and Stephen LaPorte, Legal Counsel.

Archive notice: This is an archived post from blog.wikimedia.org, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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The united states government is only trolling the very low hanging fruit. Any serious netherios group knows the ways to circumvent detection. Its reminiscent of “weapons of mass destruction” and will be lapped up by the chattering classes on the net. Anonymous.

What people want to know is this: “When I read Wikipedia is the government reading over my shoulder, logging my activity, and potentially inferring my politics and values?” But they cannot find the answer to this simple question in your post. Allow me to help you with a frank answer: For some users the answer is unequivocally yes: Wikimedia has _specific_ knowledge of authorities in some countries intercepting and monitoring traffic to Wikipedia. For users who are concerned about observation by the US government the frank answer is “We probably couldn’t tell you if it were so, so asking us… Read more »

The US government doesn’t believe in humans, their values. So the PRISM happened.

Should Wikimedia join in decrying PRISM? No. It was OK when Wikimedia decided to make a stand on SOPA, b/c SOPA legislation had clear and obvious detrimental consequences on the functioning of Wikimedia. It is not clear or obvious how PRISM or FISA has negative consequences on Wikimedia. In my view, the Foundation seems to have adopted the role of an internet freedom fighter, wanting to take a stand against anything perceived to threaten web users’ privacy and freedoms. Now, that might be an admirable position, but it’s also to some extent a political position and one that clashes with… Read more »

moved to wiki talk page discussion.

About note 2: it has been revealed that the alleged minor limits on the scope of surveillance only applies to US nationals living in US, but in fact this is only determined by a fuzzy reasonnable conviction that the location and nationality Internet user is not really very well determined. These fuzzy limits imply that more than half of US citizens will be spiable independantly of these limits. The limitations of budgets for the US agency means that they will in fact just scope some keywords to determine this. In addition this minor limitation of sope also means that US… Read more »

I applaud the Wikimedia foundation for taking action. It is to my knowledge that the “collection” of data from those internet companies mentioned in the leaks are not done willingly, but unknowingly through a massive collection of packets that travel to and from their data centers (very similar to the upstream method found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A). If this is true, the only preventative way of circumventing such “prism” taps would entail allocating your data centers, specifically for North America, outside of United States jurisdiction — to Canada and Mexico, for example. However, user packets that are sent to and from Wikipedia… Read more »

[…] Wikimedia Foundation is the latest high-profile technology company to issue a public statement on PRISM, a confidential program created by the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect large amounts of […]

[…] Wikimedia Foundation is the latest high-profile technology company to issue a public statement on PRISM, a confidential program created by the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect large amounts of […]

[…] Wikimedia Foundation is the latest high-profile technology company to issue a public statement on PRISM, a confidential program created by the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect large amounts of […]

[…] Wikimedia Foundation is the latest high-profile technology company to issue a public statement on PRISM, a Leia […]

The fact that Mr. Brigham doesn’t say anything about National Security Letters (NSLs) implies that the Wikimedia Foundation has in fact received and complied with NSLs. Who knows how many…

We have not received any National Security Letters.

Respaldo el que la Fundación tome acciones respecto a este asunto. Creo que es una cuestion de principios y consecuencia con los valores que promueve y practica. La libertad de expresión, el derecho de acceso a la información, el derecho a la privacidad son esenciales para cualquier individuo y para toda la sociedad -léase humanidad- en su conjunto. El proyecto Gutemberg, FSF, Mozilla, Wikipedia, Internet Archive y muchos otros proyectos y organizaciones nos dan la posibilidad hoy en día de elegir ejercer nuestros derechos y ser libres, o cambiar nuestra libertad por nuestra comodidad. El rápido desarrollo de la tecnología… Read more »

No es favorable expandir una idea cuando una política de revisión que el gobierno quiere implementar asegurará que podrías ser juzgado sobre tus ideas y a la vez tratarán de influir en ellas de manera que puedan mover a una gran mas de personas con el simple hecho de saber que piensan, sin embargo de manera casi segura con respecto a la libre edición de datos en la red, estoy completamente a favor de lo que la fundación wikipedia hace, puesto que su gran influencia podría hacer a una gran parte de la población despertar y darse cuenta de que… Read more »

What was fiction is becoming or has become reality. I recall George Orwell’s 1984 and “Big Brother”. This recollection is more poignant now.

J’ai déjà fait pleins de démarches pour qu’on m’enlève la CROIX GAMMEE qui se trouve sur ma page ‘images’. On vient de la déplacer mais se trouve dans la 22ème rangée. J’ai perdu tant de membres de ma famille durant cette guerre que j’ai vécu vu mon âge avancé que je vous supplie de me l’enlever. Cela ne se trouve chez personne d’autre. La lutte contre le nazisme, on l’a connu. Pourquoi suis-je, moi, pénalisée de voir encore cette horreur après tant d’années de souffrances? Je ne sais pas comment me défaire de cette CROIX à MASQUE GAMMEE? Pour vous,… Read more »

[…] issue, with the NSA specifically, was made much more serious and real with the Edward Snowden 2013 public disclosures, which revealed information about Wikimedia’s programs. According to its blog postings, Wikimedia […]

[…] without establishing probable cause or making any individualized showing to a court. And in 2013, public disclosures of NSA documents revealed the massive scope of the surveillance practices allegedly authorized by […]