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Tory tackles Whitehall on Wiki-updating spooks

And exposes Adonis amending himself

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A Conservative MP’s campaign to find out what civil servants are updating on Wikipedia suggests that Whitehall has no clue what its workers are getting up to on their taxpayer-funded PCs.

Stephen O’Brien, MP for Eddisbury in Cheshire, has spent the last few months peppering Whitehall departments with requests along the lines of "how many Wikipedia entries have been (a) created and (b) amended from departmental IP addresses".

According to The Telegraph, O’Brien has information that workers at the secretive Buckinghamshire base of Her Majesty's Government Communications Centre (HMGCC), supposedly the real life equivalent of James Bond's Q branch, have been updating the Wikipedia entry for Canadian skater lust symbol Avril Lavigne, and purging abusive entries describing Emo.

Unfortunately, the official answers, as detailed by Hansard, are uniformly along the lines of: "The cost of obtaining and analysing such data could be obtained only at disproportionate cost."

Some of them, however, have included additional nuggets of information, though steadfastly ignoring the question of whether civil servants are going extra-curricular on their work PCs.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said sniffily: "If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should decide to create or alter Wikipedia entries, any such input would be done in accordance with the civil service code. This states that civil servants should: 'use resources only for the authorised public purposes for which they are provided' and 'make sure public money and other resources are used properly and efficiently'."

The Ministry of Justice says: "The Ministry of Justice's IT Systems are unable to provide a record of Wikipedia entries which have been created and amended by special advisers, Ministers and communications officials since August 2005."

Which is fair enough, as keeping track of criminals and prisoners is often beyond them.

The Exchequer and International Development both tried to take the high ground, with the Exchequer saying: "Entries to Wikipedia can be created and amended by an individual from any computer that has access to the internet. Therefore the information requested is not held and could be provided only at disproportionate costs."

Which, presumably, is O’Brien’s point – anyone could update Wikipedia on any topic, but they shouldn’t be doing so on taxpayers' time.

It was the MoD that came closest to proving some real meat, detailing 13 different subjects on which its staff had fiddled in the Wikiverse. It then went and blew it all by adding: "All amendments were made to correct factual inaccuracies and in line with the civil service code. We are not aware of any entries being created by communications officials, created or amended by special advisers or Ministers."

But the most moving response came from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which said: "No Wikipedia entries have been created by anyone in the department or its predecessor." But added intriguingly: "One entry has been amended by a minister."

Who is this mystery minister and what was he "amending"? The department later added: "Lord Adonis amended an entry on Wikipedia and not the departmental intranet. The minister corrected a page about himself on Wikipedia which was factually incorrect."

So, Whitehall has no idea what the rank and file are up to on their PCs, but can tell you where ministers go when they're online. Perhaps O'Brien should rephrase the question.®

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