Not any more

Second federal computer used to alter Wikipedia

In Canada on August 25, 2010 at 10:27

OTTAWA — An investigation has begun into a second instance of someone using a federal government computer to alter a Wikipedia entry — this time rebranding the online encyclopedia’s English entry on Canada’s Official Languages Act as "Quebec’s Nazi Act."

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has ordered the investigation after the alteration was traced to a computer at federal Correctional Services headquarters in Ottawa.

The first instance of such online mischief involved the Wikipedia entry on the joint strike fighter in mid-July.

On Tuesday, the Defence Department said it had traced that incident to a computer in the air force’s headquarters in Winnipeg.

Toews was alerted to the prank by Quebec Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who was himself alerted by a Twitter user who spotted the latest modification. Coderre said Criminal-Code sanctions against hate speech should be brought to bear.

"Comparing Quebecers to Nazis is hate propaganda and is unacceptable," he said. "I’m calling on the government to take action in this case and take action immediately, because this is a serious matter."

What makes it doubly serious is the fact the alteration was made from a government computer, Coderre said.

"We know that anybody can write anything on Wikipedia, but this comes from a government computer. I’m not attacking the government on this, but I want light shed on what happened."

Wikipedia entries can, for the most part, be readily altered by users, but the system is geared to allow edits to be traced to specific computers, if not necessarily specific users.

The Defence computer was used to vandalize information on the Wikipedia site that was critical of the Conservative government’s decision to spend billions on a new stealth fighter.

Defence information specialists traced the computer to 1 Canadian Air Division headquarters in Winnipeg, Canadian Forces spokesman Navy Capt. David Scanlon said Tuesday.

"Now it’s up to chain of command to pursue that, identify the individual and determine whether disciplinary or administrative action is appropriate," he said.

The alterations included the removal of any information critical of the Harper government’s plan to spend at least $16 billion on the new fighter aircraft. The computer account was also used to insert insults, aimed at Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, into the Wikipedia Joint Strike Fighter page. Ignatieff has questioned the proposed purchase. Quotes from news articles outlining opposition to the arms sale by University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, a former NDP candidate, were also removed.

After being informed about the Wikipedia alterations by the Citizen, the Defence Department launched its investigation.

Wikipedia originally traced the alterations to three Internet Protocol addresses registered to Defence Research and Development Canada’s Ottawa offices. Wikipedia labelled the July 20-21 alterations as vandalism. Although the Internet Protocol addresses are registered to DRDC, they also include other DND computers from around the country.

Using a website that provides the geographic location of Internet Protocol addresses, the Citizen further traced the computers to the CFB Cold Lake air force base in Alberta.

The nine attempts to change the Wikipedia web page, made during work hours, stopped when Wikipedia administrators locked down the entry on the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF. That allowed only recognized editors to work on the page. Once the page was unlocked, though, the vandalism resumed.

The proposed purchase of the JSF, the most expensive military equipment procurement in Canadian history, is supported by the air force.

However, Ignatieff, concerned that no competition was held to select the fighter plane, has vowed to review the deal if his party forms the next government. The NDP and Bloc Québécois have also spoken out about the planned purchase.

Canada won’t be required to sign a contract committing it to purchasing the stealth fighters until 2013, according to aerospace industry representatives. That has opened the door for any future government to back away from the proposed deal if needed.

Byers, who recently wrote a Toronto Star commentary criticizing the JSF purchase, said the Harper government was particularly sensitive about any opposition towards the JSF purchase, a situation reflected by the attempts to alter the Wikipedia page.

Hubert Bauch writes for The Gazette in Montreal. David Pugliese writes for The Citizen.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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