Friday, August 24, 2007

Wikipedia editing by the Australian government

Tom Worthington on Ten News 24 August 2007Channel 10 TV news interviewed me at 2pm as a representative of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) about the use of Wikipedia by the Australian government (broadcast on Ten News at 24 August 2007 at 23:03:30 EST).
Staff in the Australian prime minister's department have been accused of editing potentially damaging entries in online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

Workers made 126 edits on subjects such as immigration policy and Treasurer Peter Costello, a local daily said. ...

Changes were also made to the online profile of Peter Costello, Mr Howard's deputy and treasurer. ...

The new website, Wikipedia Scanner, also identified computers at Australia's Defence Department as being behind more than 5,000 changes to the site, the daily said. ...

From: Howard row over Wikipedia edits, BBC 24 August 2007, 09:39 GMT
Wikipedia is a collaboratively edited encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute. The Wikipedia does not require the use of real names by contributors, but records IP addresses. As the Wikipedia says:
"An unregistered user is identified by his or her machine's IP address, which is used as their public identifier when making contributions (and signing comments on talk pages). Your computer's IP address can sometimes be used to find information about you, so registering increases your privacy by hiding it. " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Tutorial_%28Registration%29>.
The WikiScanner by Virgil Griffith allows IP addresses to be looked up to easily see who edits what on the Wikipedia. As an example a quick search found 3819 edits of the Wikipedia by the Australian Department Of Defence IP range 203.10.220.0-224.255.

Most of these edits seem relatively uncontroversial. Many are to correct spelling errors and details of military units and equipment. Some are to remove some details which should not be widely known for reasons of privacy and security. Others appear to be unrelated to the Defence Department and of general community interest. About the only issue would be if this was a good use of a government agency's computer and staff time.

ps: I drafted the Defence Department's web guidelines in 1995 and Internet policy in 1996, as cited in "Demonstration of the Australian Defence Web Home Page", SEARCC'98, 8 July 1998. It was a tricky business, not just a matter of banning web sites on how to play golf or make bombs, as both these activities are part of official defence jobs. I don't know if the rules were revised since them to specifically cover the Wikipedia.

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