Wikipedia Vows to Protect Readers From Government Snooping

Responding to NSA controversy, site founder Jimmy Wales says privacy is a ‘human rights issue.’

nsa controversy, domestic surveillance, Wikipedia Vows to Protect Readers' Privacy From Government Snooping
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is calling for new online Fourth Amendment protections. (Photo: REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
Matt Fleischer is a TakePart contributor who was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

When Edward Snowden first went public about the full scope of American data-gathering operations on its own citizens, his revelations were initially met with a sad and embarrassing yawn from many in the mainstream media.

“Snowden decided that he does not ‘want to live in a society’ that intercepts private communications,” wrote The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin. “His latter-day conversion is dubious.... He is a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.”

But Wikipedia isn’t being so blasé about an all-encompassing government snooping operation.

After news broke that its sites were specifically targeted for spying by the NSA, Wikipedia announced that it will take steps to prevent such government encroachment from ever happening again on its site.

“[Wikipedia] believes strongly in protecting the privacy of its readers and editors,” the nonprofit said in a statement published on its website. “Recent leaks of the NSA’s XKeyscore program have prompted our community members to push for the use of HTTPS by default for the Wikimedia projects.” HTTPS is a secure form of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the most common form of online digital communication.

After the announcement, Wikipedia founder and free speech activist, Jimmy Wales, further went on to back a plan for new online Fourth Amendment protections—which would prevent the government from decrypting any online communications without probable cause and a warrant.

On his Twitter page, Wales calls encryption “a human rights issue.”

Wales’ suggestion has not received much play in the media. However, until Wales’ plan, or similar legal protections, are formally enacted, there may be no such thing as online privacy from the prying eyes of government.

Case in point: This weekend, according to Wired, malware software designed to attack the Tor network, which encrypts and protects the identities of those who use it to navigate the web, was discovered to likely have originated from the FBI.

What does the malware do? “It just sends identifying information to some IP in Reston, Virginia,” reverse-engineer Vlad Tsyrklevich tells Wired.

In other words, the malware was specifically designed to do nothing but send identifying user information, which would otherwise have remained anonymous, to the home of the United States’ chief spying and intelligence operation.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s FBI or it’s some other law enforcement agency that’s U.S.-based,” Tsyrklevich concluded.

Technology, like Tor, may exist to help protect the identities and communications of those savvy enough to know about them. But, as the recent malware attack shows, it appears as if the government plans on doing all it can to render those technologies ineffective. Without updated online privacy laws, no American can ever reasonably expect to have their right to privacy protected.

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