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U.S. court upholds dismissal of a lawsuit against NSA on ‘state secrets’ grounds

The dismissal of a complaint by the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, challenging the National Security Agency’s widespread interception and search of Americans’ international internet communications has been upheld by a federal appeals court in the United States.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the lawsuit must be dismissed after the government asserted the “state secrets privilege,” meaning that a complete investigation of the issue in court would damage national security.

In its lawsuit, the Wikimedia Foundation claimed that the NSA’s “Upstream” surveillance program captures some of its international communications and is a violation of the U.S. constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

Judge Albert Diaz wrote in a majority opinion by the court, “Although the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the government as to Wikimedia’s standing, we agree that the state secrets privilege requires the termination of this suit.”

Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, who disagreed in the court ruling, warned that the majority opinion “stands for a sweeping proposition: A suit may be dismissed under the state secrets doctrine, after minimal judicial review, even when the government premises its only defenses on far-fetched hypotheticals.”

The existence of Upstream was revealed in 2013 through leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and the case was filed as a result of those revelations.

On Wednesday, the Wikimedia Foundation expressed its dissatisfaction with the verdict and stated that it is considering options for further review in the courts.

“In the face of extensive public evidence about NSA surveillance, the court’s reasoning elevates extreme claims of secrecy over the rights of Internet users,” said James Buatti, senior legal manager at the Wikimedia Foundation.

As per NewsBreak, the lawsuit was previously dismissed in 2015 after a U.S. District judge said that there was insufficient evidence that the NSA was conducting surveillance “at full throttle.” The lawsuit was revived by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 and sent back to the lower court, which dismissed it again in 2019.

Reuters’ Kanishka Singh contributed to this report

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