University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency NS-MD-0001
Docket / Court 1:15-cv-00662-RDB ( D. Md. )
State/Territory Maryland
Case Type(s) National Security
Special Collection Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- All Matters
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- Foreign Targeting (702, 703, 704)
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Case Summary
On March 10, 2015, a collective of organizations interested in privacy, led by the Wikimedia Foundation, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for District of Maryland. The plaintiffs sued the National Security Agency and the Department of Justice under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U. ... read more >
On March 10, 2015, a collective of organizations interested in privacy, led by the Wikimedia Foundation, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for District of Maryland. The plaintiffs sued the National Security Agency and the Department of Justice under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq. The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from the ACLU and private counsel, asked the court to declare “Upstream Surveillance” by the government to be unconstitutional, and to purge all records on plaintiffs obtained through the practice. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the NSA’s surveillance programs, including “PRISM,” implement the unconstitutional method of upstream surveillance. They claimed that these programs make copies of nearly all digital communications, and that the government makes no effort to limit the scope of this surveillance. The plaintiffs allege these practices violate their First and Fourth amendment rights.

After the passage of the FAA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act) in 2008, the NSA was granted authority to conduct warrantless surveillance of all US persons’ international communications. The act includes no requirement for justifying the surveillance, or for attempting to limit those affected by the surveillance. In 2011 under the FAA, the NSA began its upstream surveillance program, which, the complaint, alleges “involves the surveillance of essentially everyone’s communications. Plaintiffs claim this NSA surveillance program is hindering their work and violating their constitutional rights.

On October 23rd, 2015, the court (Judge T.S. Ellis) granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the suit. The court reasoned that the suit did not have proper standing because their complaint did not allege a harm directly attributable to the government’s upstream surveillance.

On December 15th, 2015, the plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal. Oral argument occurred on December 8th, 2016 and on May 23, 2017, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its judgment. The court vacated and remanded the District of Maryland's decision as to Wikimedia, the first and largest plaintiff, ruling that it had standing to pursue the injunction. As to all other plaintiffs, however, the court affirmed.

Underlying this ruling was the relative speculativeness of each plaintiff's claim. Wikimedia asserted that it conducted over a trillion internet communications every year with people in virtually every country on the planet. There are a very limited number of pathways in which an internet communication can exit the United States, and the NSA's Upstream monitoring program monitors at least one of these pathways in order to obtain and review communications. The gist of Wikimedia's complaint was that, due to the sheer volume of their communications, and due to the limited number of places in which the government can monitor communications, there was no way that the government had not obtained and reviewed Wikimedia's communications with persons abroad.

The government countered that Wikimedia was speculating as to the breadth of the U.S. Upstream monitoring program. The court ruled that Wikimedia's assertion was sufficiently plausible at least as to the Motion to Dismiss phase of trial.

The other named plaintiffs' claim did not rise to the same level of certainty as Wikimedia's. Instead of claiming that it was virtually impossible for the government to use Upstream monitoring and avoid reviewing their internet communications, the other plaintiffs claimed that the government was “intercepting, copying, and reviewing substantially all" text-based communications entering and leaving the United States . The court found this claim unsubstantiated by the allegations contained in the complaint, and therefore upheld the lower court's judgment. 857 F.3d 193.

In a dissent, Judge Davis agreed with the court's ruling that Wikimedia had standing to continue the case, but would have held that the other plaintiffs had made plausible allegations and should have had standing as well.

The case was remanded, but as of June 26, 2017, there has been no additional action in the District Court.

Michael Abrams - 10/04/2016
Megan Brown - 06/26/2017


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Unreasonable search and seizure
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Confidentiality
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) National Security Agency
Plaintiff Description Wikimedia Foundation and eight other educational, legal, human rights, and media organizations
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing NS-PA-0003 : Schuchardt v. Obama (W.D. Pa.)
Docket(s)
1:15-cv-00662-RDB (D. Md.)
NS-MD-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/04/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
NS-MD-0001-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 03/10/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 70-1]
NS-MD-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/19/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint [ECF# 77-1]
NS-MD-0001-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 08/06/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 93] (D. Md.)
NS-MD-0001-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/23/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judgment [Appellate] [Ct. of App. ECF# 101] (857 F.3d 193)
NS-MD-0001-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Davis, Andre Maurice Court not on record
NS-MD-0001-0005
Diaz, Albert Court not on record
NS-MD-0001-0005
Ellis, Thomas Selby III Court not on record
NS-MD-0001-0004 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Motz, Diana Jane Gribbon Court not on record
NS-MD-0001-0005
Plaintiff's Lawyers Abdo, Alex (New York)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Browning, John M. (New York)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Gorski, Ashley (New York)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Jaffer, Jameel (New York)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Jeon, Deborah A. (Maryland)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Munkittrick, David A. (New York)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Rocah, David Robert (Maryland)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Sims, Charles S. (New York)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Toomey, Patrick Christopher (New York)
NS-MD-0001-0001 | NS-MD-0001-0003 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Berman, Julia Alexandra (District of Columbia)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Coppolino, Anthony J. (District of Columbia)
NS-MD-0001-0002
Gilligan, James J (District of Columbia)
NS-MD-0001-0002 | NS-MD-0001-9000
Hunt, Joseph H. (District of Columbia)
NS-MD-0001-0002
Mizer, Benjamin C. (District of Columbia)
NS-MD-0001-0002
Patton, Rodney (District of Columbia)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Other Lawyers Berlage, Jan Ingham (Maryland)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Crocker, Andrew (California)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Granick, Jennifer Stisa (California)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Kaminski, Margot E (Ohio)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Landis, Jeffrey (District of Columbia)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Levenson, Emily Lange (Maryland)
NS-MD-0001-9000
Treem, Joshua R (Maryland)
NS-MD-0001-9000

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -