Another lesson for life in the global information environment.
French spy agency tries to pull 'classified' Wikipedia entry, only draws more attention to it
Summary: In another example of the Streisand Effect, Wikipedia France's most popular article is an entry about a French military installation — the same entry the country's spy agencies allegedly tried to force a Wikipedia editor into deleting under the guise of it being 'classified' material.
What do a French military installation and Barbara Streisand have in common?
Typically, censorship has two outcomes: Either it works, or it fails. In many cases, it fails, as the French government found out today.
Wikimedia France said in a press release on Saturday morning that France's domestic intelligence agency, the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI), contacted in early March its parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
The DCRI claimed an article on Wikipedia France was in breach of the country's laws by disclosing "classified military information," and should be pulled from the site.
The Wikipedia entry pertained to a French military compound, the "Radio station military Pierre-sur-High," around 70 miles west of Lyon. The installation is thought to act as part of France's nuclear deterrent and detection capabilities.
The San Francisco, California-headquartered Wikimedia Foundation refused the request by the DCRI on the grounds that it did not provide enough information to prove that the entry contained classified information — likely because it would confirm what the DCRI still believes to be information that should not be in the public light.
In the press release, Wikimedia Foundation said it "has often collaborated with public authorities to follow legal decisions," as it has many offices in various countries and therefore abides by local laws — as any company must.
Though the not-for-profit organization cited that it receives "hundreds of requests every year asking for the deletion of articles," this was not one of them, the statement said.
"Without further information, we could not understand why the DCRI believes information in the article is classified," said Wikimedia Foundation legal counsel Michelle Paulson in a discussion thread on the site.
Instead, the DCRI threw its weight behind bullying a Wikipedia editor based in the country to delete the page under the threat of prosecution, with consequences not limited to massive fines and a lengthy prison sentence.
"Bullying and coercive methods"
Not content with the Wikimedia Foundation's refusal to delete the article, the DCRI "summoned" a Paris, France-based Wikipedia editor to its offices on Thursday.
According to the press release: "This volunteer had no link with that article, having never edited it and not even knowing of its existence before entering the DCRI offices. He was chosen and summoned because he was easily identifiable, given his regular promotional actions of Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in France."
Once hauled in to the spy agency's office, despite his explanation to the French spies that "this is not how Wikipedia works," he was forced to remove the entry using his access to the site's administrator tools that allow such an action.
After his release, he explained to other editors that the entry, according to the DCRI, violated Article 413-11 of the French Criminal Code, which details compromising the secrecy of national defense infrastructure.
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