United States Department of Justice workers among government Wikipedia vandals

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Thursday, February 2, 2006

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In response to recent accusations that United States government employees have engaged in Wikipedia vandalism and other forms of perceived negative editing of articles, Wikipedia editors have set up a webpage listing all Wikipedia edits made through IP addresses that are allocated to the United States House of Representatives and other United States government agencies. The House IP address was briefly banned from editing Wikipedia articles in the wake of the initial controversy, but the ban was lifted on January 30 after Wikipedia administrators decided that there have been a number of valuable contributions made through the House and Senate IP addresses in addition to the controversial edits.

On January 31 and February 1, however, the U.S. House of Representatives' common IP address, 143.231.249.141, were banned again for three hours due to vandalism. Because the IP address is shared by House staff members, it is uncertain whether or not the same person(s) responsible for the previous vandalism are also responsible for the latest.

Examples of contributions submitted through the House IP address included removing, "In 2005, he has come under scrutiny for accepting campaign contributions from embattled former house leader Tom Delay," from the article on Thad McCotter, removing election statistics from the article on Dan Lungren, and, in the article on Marilyn Musgrave, changing the paragraph

"As a state legislator, Musgrave spent much of her time on social issues, particularly authoring bills to deny marriage rights and parental rights for gay and lesbian families. One of her final, failed bills would have made it much more difficult for same-sex parents to see their children in the hospital during an emergency. Musgrave also cast the only vote against legislation to give battered spouses paid leave from work."

to

"As a state legislator, Musgrave spent much of her time on social issues, particularly authoring bills to protect children and the traditional definition of marriage, as well as gun owner's rights."

After the block from Wikipedia expired, the House of Representatives user continued to edit the article on Chris Shays. Chris Shays had co-sponsored a bill with Marty Meehan, whose staffers had previously been found to have been negatively editing Wikipedia entries, The American Civil Liberties Union said of the bill "key elements of Shays-Meehan violate the First Amendment right to free speech because the legislation contains provisions that would violate the constitutionally-protected right of the people to express their opinions about issues through broadcast advertising if they mention the name of a candidate." All mentions of the bill were removed from the article. Also removed was a paragraph about Chris Shays raising $70,000 with House Speaker Dennis Hastert at a country club event.

Again, the IP address was blocked for an eight-hour period.

Wikipedia edits in Congress are not coming from the House of Representatives alone. An edit from the Senate in July removed references to a plagiarism scandal with Senator Joe Biden, who has informally said he may seek a Democratic nomination for president in 2008. As of February 4, 2006, the edit has not fixed by Wikipedia users.

CIA, the Department of Justice, Marines, and Naval vandalism

IP addresses from the CIA, the Department of Justice, the Marines, and the Navy are listed on the site as having made several cases of vandalism. Some examples of vandalism from the Department of Justice IP ranges involve articles on TV and radio shows, a baseball player, or just complaining about their work. In addition to accusations of vandalism, there have also been accusations of government employees introducing perceived bias, political spinning, or misinformation into Wikipedia articles by adding or removing information.

These cases include articles on an Irish politician, and in the George W. Bush article, introducing accusations of Hugo Chavez being a dictator, and removing information covering the George W. Bush substance abuse controversy. In addition, a person using a Department of Justice IP address edited a page covering indicted former Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The editor removed two paragraphs stating a judge ruled that Tom DeLay had broken state law by not disclosing over $600,000 of fundraising money, a quote from Tom DeLay in which he stated that it drives the Democrats crazy wondering why the Republican Party institutes pro-Israeli policy, and a subsection on controversies involving DeLay's relatives. Edits to George W. Bush's article were done within the span of an hour. Edits to Tom DeLay's article were made within an hour as well, although followed by a shorter, minor second session of editing later that day.

An editor using a CIA IP address is accused of vandalizing an article on the current president of Iran. Editors using Marine and Navy IP addresses based in Pensacola, Florida are accused of vandalizing an article on a rock song and on former U.S. president Bill Clinton, and accused of adding racist comments to articles on an actor and Martin Luther King, Jr., and adding comments that are perceived to criticize the men and women in the Navy reserves.

The IP addresses of the Department of Justice, the CIA, and the Navy and Marines stationed in Pensacola, Florida were found using the American Registry for Internet Numbers at the official website. Neither the government nor the Wikimedia Foundation have released an official statement.

The U.S. House of Representatives' IP address is not the first governmental address to have been blocked after accusations of disrupting Wikipedia. The IP address belonging to a subdivision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Alberta, Canada was blocked for three months since late 2005. An IP address belonging to the German Bundestag has been repeatedly blocked from the German Wikipedia after accusations of vandalism, including sexually explicit comments.

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