WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
10 Mar 2015 | News

WOLA Joins Group Lawsuit Against NSA

Today, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is proud to join with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil society voices in the United States in challenging the National Security Agency’s (NSA) use of so-called “upstream” data collection techniques, which involve the mass surveillance of global internet communications. This practice directly affects WOLA’s ability to communicate effectively with its contacts and partners throughout the Americas.

As a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas, WOLA engages in regular communication about subjects that fall under the NSA’s alarmingly expansive definition of “foreign intelligence information.” This term is defined so broadly that it encompasses virtually any information relating to the foreign affairs of the United States. This means that foreign leaders, policymakers, academics, journalists, human rights defenders, and victims of human rights abuses who communicate with WOLA could be victims of NSA surveillance. 

This is deeply troublesome, as our work requires a great deal of discretion. To be effective, WOLA needs to be able to guarantee its partners and contacts throughout the hemisphere that their communications—and, in some cases, even their identities—will not be revealed.

“Today’s ACLU lawsuit specifically targets the technical aspects of U.S. surveillance techniques and their violations of the freedoms of expression and inquiry,” said WOLA Executive Director Joy Olson. “However, the deeper concern in this case is that U.S. dragnet surveillance creates an environment of self-censorship among civil society. This inhibits organizations like WOLA and its partners throughout the Americas from doing our job: holding governments accountable.”

As such, WOLA has joined with eight other groups as co-plaintiffs in a major new lawsuit presented by the American Civil Liberties Association (ACLU) today to challenge this practice. WOLA’s co-plaintiffs in the suit are the Wikimedia Foundation, the Rutherford Institute, The Nation magazine, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Global Fund for Women.

To read more about the importance of this case to core democratic values, see also: