DHS relies on Wikipedia for asylum information, appeals court rules against use

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

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The seal of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
Image: US Government.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Department of Homeland Security was wrong in using the online encyclopedia Wikipedia as a reference when deciding whether to allow asylum seekers to stay in the United States.

The department used the Wikipedia article named laissez-passer to decide whether the document was a valid form of identification. This is despite the fact that the article had a large orange notice at the top of the article saying that "this article does not cite any references or sources."

Wikipedia logo
Copyright: Wikimedia Foundation.

The Board of Immigration Appeals has stated that it doesn't "encourage the use of resources such as Wikipedia.com [sic] in reaching pivotal decisions in immigration proceedings." They said that they allowed the decision to stand due to the fact that the information seemed accurate.

The appeals court noted when making the decision that Wikipedia admits that articles will stay inaccurate and unbalanced for long periods of time. Below is the extract from the court documents that makes this point:

Cquote1.svg ...The site acknowledges [that articles], “may become caught up in a heavily unbalanced

viewpoint and can take some time – months perhaps – to regain a better-balanced consensus.” Id. As a consequence, Wikipedia observes, the website’s “radical openness means that any given article may be, at any given moment, in a bad state: for example, it could be in the middle of a large edit or it could have been recently vandalized.”

Cquote2.svg

—United States Court of Appeals

Cary Bass, the volunteer coordinator of the Wikimedia Foundation, gave Wikinews the following statement on this issue:

Cquote1.svg Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia -- almost every article can be edited by anyone at any time. The vast majority of the information is accurate and the editors strive to write from a neutral point of view, but the nature of the project is that at any moment, any article can contain erroneous information or pure inaccuracies.

Anyone using Wikipedia as an original source should be mindful of this fact; and anyone citing critical information such as a judge for use in a lawsuit is advised to use the sources provided via each article's references section, history and talk page to verify that the information they are reading is, in fact, accurate.

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—Cary Bass


Sources

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