French Intelligence Agency Forces Wikipedia Volunteer to Delete Article; Re-Instated, It Becomes Most-Read Page On French Wikipedia

from the not-so-clever dept

Last week, we wrote about an organization that was unhappy that a Wikipedia article no longer existed. Now we have the opposite problem: an organization unhappy because a Wikipedia article does exist. And not just any organization, but the “Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intéieur” (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, DCRI), a French intelligence agency, which suddenly decided that an article about a military base contained classified information, and wanted it deleted. As the English-language Wikipedia article on the subject explains:

The Wikimedia Foundation asked the intelligence agency what precise part(s) of the article were a problem in the eyes of the intelligence agency, noting that the article closely reflected information in a freely available television broadcast. The DCRI refused to give these details, and repeated its demand for deletion of the article.

Wikipedia refused to delete it, and then things took a nasty turn, as a press release from the Wikimedia Foundation explains:

Unhappy with the Foundation’s answer, the DCRI summoned a Wikipedia volunteer in their offices on April 4th. 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.

As the Wikimedia Foundation goes on to note:

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.

This is very similar to the situation discussed last week, where Benjamin Mako Hill seems to have been targeted because he, too, was easily identifiable. As we noted then, putting pressure on Wikipedia volunteers in this way is extremely problematic, since it naturally discourages others from helping out. As Wikimedia wrote in its press release:

Wikimedia France cannot understand how bullying and coercitive methods can be used against a person dedicated to promote the freedom and knowledge. As Wikimedia France supports free knowledge, it is its duty to denounce such acts of censorship against a French citizen and Wikipedia editor.

Has editing Wikipedia officially become risky behaviour in France? Is the DCRI unable to enforce military secrecy through legal, less brutal methods

There is also the interesting question of how a national intelligence service only found out about the article now, several years after it was first added: this hardly suggests a firm grasp of what’s happening in the online world. That’s confirmed by the fact that the deleted article is, of course, back on line, in French and a dozen other languages. Moreover, the DCRI’s ham-fisted attempt to censor an extremely obscure Wikipedia page that hardly anyone ever visited, has achieved exactly the opposite effect: in the last few days, the page has been viewed over 45,000 times. This is how the article about the not-so-secret military installation now concludes:

As a result of the controversy, the article became the most-read page on the French Wikipedia. It was translated into multiple other languages. The French newspaper 20 minutes noted it as an example of the Streisand effect in action.

Will they never learn?

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Comments on “French Intelligence Agency Forces Wikipedia Volunteer to Delete Article; Re-Instated, It Becomes Most-Read Page On French Wikipedia”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Fail of military proportions! That’s one huge win for Wikipedia if you think about it and make it akin to the intertubes.

I explain: the internet was conceived back on arpa or whatever it was called precisely to prevent an attack to part of the network succeeding in disabling the entirety of it. Wikipedia has a network of collaborators that CAN delete and do high level access stuff anywhere but not without others noticing weird behavior and reviewing it meaning you can’t just take things down at will. This resilience has been put to test multiple times and while not perfect (the internet has its exploitable parts doesn’t it?) it does a heck of a good job. However it may highlight a need for further changes to increase this resilience as next time the morons may go after people that created/edit regularly (still I think they’d always double, triple, quadruple check deletions especially if the article is not new).

If anything Wikipedia got a hugely epic win, Streisand got proud and the French CIA ended looking like fail-clowns.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

technically anybody can functionally delete an article on wikipedia (by blanking the page)

That shows up as a huge red flag on the Recent Changes feed. Not only that, but several bots monitor the Recent Changes feed, and will automatically undo any attempted blanking. Followed by an automated warning on the offender’s talk page, which causes an orange alert to appear at the top of any Wikipedia page the offender accesses.

If the vandal persists on the blanking attempt, they will be reverted again (this time manually), and blocked for a day or more if they insist.

So no, blanking the page does not work as a way to delete a Wikipedia article.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: France = Fail

France has been very out of touch for several decades. Their protectionism of information and IP is already a sign for other politicians in europe of how not to do things.

In recent years the french government and courts have harrassed Google on several occasions like a ruling making Google maps “illegal competition” trying to screw french mapmakers and people caught on its pictures, the government has sued them for tax evasion, the “suggest”-feature has been deemed libelous by french courts in several instances and the newspaper settlement where they set up a fund of 60 million euros to fund Digital Publishing Innovation.

These are cases from within the last 3 years with more or less government involvement only targeting Google…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

French Intelligence Agency shows amazing lack of intelligence and draws more attention to what they wanted to hide.
Ms. Streisand will be performing at the benefit concert to raise money to help them overcome the shame of butthurt.

We talk about the **AA’s and their ilk being stuck in history and not adapting, it should be a national shame when your intelligence agency fails this spectacularly. I worry for the person they already leaned on once, those with power often lash out at others for their own failed actions.

Jim says:

Re: Re: Hmm

Thank you for pointing this out. It galls me how easily people are manipulated – one must ALWAYS ask “what could possibly really be going on?”.

Questions to ask:
Is the story likely? Who has a stake in the events? What other events could be related? Are we sure the story is accurate? Are we sure the supposed instigator is the REAL instigator? Etc, etc.

It’s hard to know for sure what’s really going on.

Jeff (profile) says:

French "secrets"

I’d this wonderful Italian flatmate when I lived in Paris. After I left, a French defense contractor hired him for logistics. His position required a French security clearance, probably only low level, but a security clearance nonetheless.

Turns out, his boss had never liked him, she would’ve preferred hiring some Chinese lady, but the French government initially said the clearance sounded too tricky. After 1 year or so, she finagled a security clearance for said Chinese lady, fired my friend, and hired the her.

I question your “security” if you’re permitting low level bureaucrats to finagle security clearances and jobs in secure areas for Chinese nationals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

When you’re getting arrested to deface articles on the merit that you have an admin account on Wikipedia, then where does it go from being “invisible” to “Oh shit someone is actually out to get me”?

But okay, tell DCRI that you have an admin account on Wikipedia, I’m sure they’ll treat you with bunnies and sunshine.

kitsune361 (profile) says:

Srsly the wrong way to go about it.

If you have a Wikipedia admin account under your control, this is totally the wrong way to go about destroying an article. What you do is have *other* people edit the articles you want to change and then wield your admin power to quash descent with the power of the banhammer.

The DCRI could learn a lot from MI6 or some of the private Wikipedia “editing projects” (conspiracies?) that have come to light over the years.

Anonymous Coward says:

i think the thing to remember about this is, as has happened so many times in the last couple of years, democratic countries are doing the same as places like Iran and N.Korea. they are stifling free speech and censoring the very things that democracy is supposed to represent and stand for. the USA has been doing it, the UK has been doing it, Sweden has been doing it as has Holland. these countries have been doing these things, in the main, because of threats from the USA, for doing too little to curb ‘piracy and file sharing’. as with many other things, once it starts, it is very difficult to stop because it gets worse every time it happens. eventually, it comes about that these ‘democratic countries’ are a damn site worse than the countries that have been despised and condemned, falling into their states of dictatorship.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Since when...

…can a government agency of a Western democracy, in peacetime:

a) Summon, essentially, a random civilian off the street into their head office, with no warrant or basis for suspicion of that civilian in any criminal matter;

b) Detain that civilian without same; and

c) Demand that that civilian take an arbitrary action or face prosecution (and for what charge?)

Absent martial law, that clearly should not happen. What the article describes is a violation not only of due process, but of rule of law as well — an agency of the executive branch of government directly commanding random civilians and threatening them with prosecution, where said civilians have presumptively not violated any pre-existing legislation, and without any court order.

Peter (user link) says:

Louisiana bureaucrat tries same BS

A bureaucrat on some board in Louisiana that exists to protect certain racketeering efforts of big-money pharmeceutical lobbyists has been harassing my mother, a small-time healthcare provider, pressuring her to ignore medical science and violate the Hippocratic oath so as to silence her blogging and if necessary close her practice.


Her studying of clinical trials shed light on a discovery that threatened the status quo of a product of big pharma in the United States, and she had the audacity to objectively report on the discovery.

The bureaucrat’s name is Cecilia Mouton, and I will be publishing more about this story in the weeks to come at a yet-to-be determined website, blog or press release distribution firm.

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