French Intelligence’s Latest Nemesis? Wikipedia

Science & Tech / Web Culture

French Intelligence’s Latest Nemesis? Wikipedia

By: Chris O'Shea

Everybody loves Wikipedia, right? Where else can you read about the martial arts career of Jean-Claude Van Damme and the 1805 Treaty of Pressburg? Well, it seems one group of people do not love the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia: French spies.  

You see, the French version of the CIA — the "Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intéieur" (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, AKA - DCRI) — hasn't been very happy with Wikipedia lately. The problem was the French Wikipedia page for the Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station, which is used by France's military. Apparently the DCRI found some classified information on the entry and wanted it taken down. When the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia's publisher) asked why, things got a little out of control.

Understandably, the Wikimedia Foundation wanted to know which details in the entry for the radio station struck a chord with the DCRI. Despite what everyone thinks, people at Wikimedia take the accuracy of its entry very seriously, so they try to work with anyone when they point out mistakes or inaccuracies on the site. However, the DCRI wasn't trying to help the organization out.

The best part? Those folks over at Wikimedia updated the radio station's entry on Wikipedia to reflect the incident. According to the updated section, the volunteers who run Wikimedia pointed out to the intelligence agency that a lot of the information in the entry mirrored a TV report from 2004 that was public record and asked which sections were classified, but "the DCRI refused to give these details, and repeated its demand for deletion of the article." When the Wikimedia people refused to take the entry down, the DCRI upped the ante. Considerably.

"Unhappy with the Foundation’s answer, the DCRI summoned a Wikipedia volunteer in their offices on April 4th," explained a blog post on Wikimedia's website. "This volunteer, which was one of those having access to the tools that allow the deletion of pages, was forced to delete the article while in the DCRI offices, on the understanding that he would have been held in custody and prosecuted if he did not comply. Under pressure, he had no other choice than to delete the article, despite explaining to the DCRI this is not how Wikipedia works."

Of course Wikimedia wasn't at all pleased about the bullying by the DCRI. It released a stern statement, explaining that "Intimidation is not the right way to enforce military secrecy in France, and the Internet is not a place that has to be regulated in such a brutal manner." The statement continued:  "We believe the DCRI has other ways to enforce the law. We hope that an independent investigation will clear up the recent events. France is a legal state, where national security should not be ensured through such measures."

When news of the issue at hand spread, another Wiki user restored the radio station article. And then, with more and more publicity being brought to the subject, a full blown Streisand Effect took place: The very entry that the DCRI was so upset about has now become the most viewed French Wikipedia page, with over 120,000 page views in one weekend.

Maybe next time the DCRI has an issue with a page they can explain themselves first. Viva la Internet!

[Pic via Flickr - Pernilla Rydmark]

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