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Wikipedia to disclose user's IP address in blackmail case

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The High Court has ordered the publishers of the Wikipedia user-generated encyclopaedia to reveal information which could identify a contributor in a blackmail case involving an unnamed famous businesswoman.

The Wikimedia Foundation said that it would not help to identify the user unless a court order was made, but that if the Court ordered it to release the information it would.

The businesswoman, known as G, claims to be the subject of a blackmail plot and the victim of the publishing in a Wikipedia entry of private and confidential information about her and her young child.

One of G's companies is in dispute with a person whom she believes is also behind a smear campaign against her. An anonymous letter she received appeared to be a threat to claim that her expenses claims amounted to theft. Another anonymous letter disclosed the information that was later published on the Wikipedia page.

G suspects that the same person is behind the letters, the business dispute, the Wikipedia entry and attempts to sell the private information to newspapers.

She asked the High Court to force Wikimedia to reveal the internet protocol (IP) address of the person who made the change to Wikipedia. An IP address can be used by an internet service provider (ISP) to identify which internet connection was used to perform certain functions or view certain pages. This can help to connect a user with certain online activity.

"In ordinary language, the mother believes that she is the subject of an attempt at blackmail," said Mr Justice Tugendhat, granting her order. "On the information before the court, she has reason to believe that."

He said that the IP address should be revealed, even if all of G's suspicions turn out not to be correct.

"Even if there is no link between the person making the claims against the company, the two anonymous letters, and the amendment, [G's position] is no weaker," he said. "If there is no such link, there remains a very strong case that private information has been disclosed by someone. The range of suspects would then include professional advisers."

The Wikipedia article in question is about G and the amendment made was about her and her child. That amendment was deleted from the article after a short time.

Wikimedia told the Court that it would comply with an order, but that there had to be an order before it released user details.

"[Wikimedia] referred to the immunity they claim under section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act (1996) from most civil liability for content they did not originate or develop," said the ruling. That law gives information service providers immunity from responsibility for illegal information or activity that they do not know about.

"They stated that it is the policy of [Wikimedia] that such data be released in response to a valid subpoena or equivalent compulsory legal process," said the ruling.

"Without waiving our insistence that no court in the United Kingdom has proper jurisdiction over us as a foreign entity, we nevertheless are willing to comply with a properly issued court order narrowly limited to the material you ask for in your letter," Wikimedia told the Court.

You can read the ruling here.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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