The 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 user data from firms such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google.
Geoff Brigham, General Counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, said the non-profit organization hasn’t received any requests or legal orders to submit data for PRISM, or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). He added that the Foundation hadn’t been asked to participate in any other 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,” Brigham added.
The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs a number of projects including Wikipedia, Wikibooks and Wikidata, among others, wasn’t featured in the original list of companies believed to be involved in the PRISM program (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo; Facebook, AOL, Apple and Paltalk.)
Brigham also said that the Wikimedia Foundation wants to further understand “and possibly respond to” the issues surrounding PRISM. To this end, it is opening an online consultation today to debate “what next steps we might take.”
It is unclear exactly what the Wikimedia Foundation is considering, or would be prepared to do in order to counter PRISM or ask the appropriate authorities further questions about its reach and capabilities.
“In our opinion, governments must be transparent to their publics,” Brigham added. “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.”
An open letter, entitled “Stop Watching Us”, will be sent to U.S. Congress demanding that they reveal the full extent of the NSA’s existing surveillance programs. A number of prominent organizations including Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology have already signed it to show their support.
As part of the consultation, the Wikimedia Foundation is asking its supporters whether it should dive in and join the aforementioned organizations in their public statements.
“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,” Brigham said. “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.”
The consultation closes on June 21, so there’s only a few days to make an impact on the Foundation’s decision.
President Obama has since held a press conference on the matter, stating that the program “does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living the United States.”
There is still a mountain of unanswered questions surrounding PRSIM, although the Associated Press has recently published a report examining PRISM and its role as a refining tool for data that the NSA pulls from the undersea cables that pipe Internet data in and out of the USA.
Image credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
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