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Rejecting NSA Spying, Wikipedia Boosts Security after XKeyscore Revelations

Co-founder: "I challenge the rest of the industry to join us. Encryption is a human rights issue."

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

The Wikimedia foundation has vowed to make system-wide changes to prevent the NSA from spying on users— including a revamp of site architecture to allow for a shift to the more secure 'HTTP Secure' (HTTPS) default—after revelations last week of the XKeyscore spying program that Wikimedia says 'specifically targets' Wikipedia users.

(Photo: Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

They join growing numbers of internet privacy and freedom advocates—including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project—urging a mass shift to the HTTPS setting amidst revelations of the NSA's vast secret surveillance programs monitoring online communications.

"The Wikimedia Foundation believes strongly in protecting the privacy of its readers and editors," stated Ryan Lane, Operations Engineer for the Wikimedia Foundation. "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."

"The NSA has a lot of channels for information," Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Common Dreams. "This makes one a little harder."

"The revelations put privacy on the forefront on a lot of people's minds," he added. "Now is as good a time as any to take action on. It is great to see big sites like like Wikipedia take leadership on this issue."

HTTPS is an internet protocol for communications that encripts data, allowing online data to be shared more securely.

Wikipedia had already been taking steps to make a shift to HTTPS—not an easy undertaking—but the latest XKeyscore revelations that the NSA is sweeping up the browsing, email, and social media activities of millions of people prompted the nonprofit to move more quickly.

"Our current architecture cannot handle HTTPS by default, but we’ve been incrementally making changes to make it possible," Lane explains. "Since we appear to be specifically targeted by XKeyscore, we’ll be speeding up these efforts."

Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world, with 520 million visitors a month, according to the Wikimedia Foundation. The non-profit, which does not run any advertisements, was built by the collaborative contributions and edits of millions of users over the past decade.

Cyber companies, including Microsoft, have been slammed for handing over user information to NSA authorities, in violation of their privacy rights.

Wikipedia Co-founder Jimmy Wales urged others in the industry to learn from Wikipedia's example in a tweet released Friday:

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