6 Aug 2014

Government Wiki edits downplay high profile killings

Special Correspondent and Presenter

A Channel 4 News investigation reveals Wikipedia edits to pages on Jean Charles de Menezes, Lee Rigby and Damilola Taylor made from government computers.

The spokesman for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes today spoke of his shock after hearing that users on government computer networks were found to have altered key information in his Wikipedia entry and sought to cover up police failings.

A Channel 4 News investigation today reveals government computers have added a slur and inaccurate information to the page of Mr de Menezes, and separately made edits that downplay the murders of Damilola Taylor and Lee Rigby.

Wikipedia edits made to the page of Jean Charles de Menezes

Asad Rehman, a spokesman for the De Menezes family, said: “Like all ordinary members of the public, I’m shocked. This is yet one more smear and attack on the family.

“We’ve seen over many years lies, misinformation and smears during the family’s attempt to find the truth and justice and answers about how an innocent young man on his way to work was gunned down by police officers.”

A government spokesperson said: “Government takes these matters very seriously. We have recently reminded civil servants of their responsibilities under the Civil Service Code and any breaches of the code will be dealt with.

“We will shortly be issuing fuller guidance on using the internet and social media to all departments.”

The news comes as the Wikimedia Foundation today says it has begun to publish details of which individuals requests that controversial pages about them be requested to be removed from Google, under the European Court of Justice’s so-called “Right to be Forgotten” ruling.

Government Wiki edits downplay hgih profile killings

The Wikimedia Foundation said: “The European court abandoned its responsibility to protect one of the most important and universal rights: the right to seek, receive, and impart information.”

Wikipedia has been notified that Google had had requests to remove pages on a 1970s Italian mafia clan, a picture of an obscure musician in concert and the entry for one of Ireland’s most successful bank robbers.

De Menezes

Channel 4 News has found that a user on a government computer network deleted an entire section which criticises how the IPCC handled the de Menezes case.

In a page about the Independent Police Complaints Commission, an entire section on Mr de Menezes, in which the IPCC admitted it had “got it wrong” over leaks, was deleted.

The anonymous editor also removed a quote that said the Metropolitan Police Federation accused the IPCC of “perverse action” over Mr de Menezes.

The same editor also added information about the IPCC, like how many cases it has dealt with, and how it “has the task of increasing public confidence.”

The changes to the de Menezes entry have come to light in the wake of a report last month which found that the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad had spied on 18 justice campaigns, including the de Menezes family.

Government computers were also used in 2006 to add suspicions that he had “a high level” of Class A drugs in his blood to one part of his entry, and sought to persuade Wikipedia editors to make changes about the reason for enacting the shoot-the-kill decision.

And on the second day of the inquest into his death in 2008, government computers were used to make a change deleting accurate information about his immigration status.

Damilola Taylor

In recent weeks, following the sacking of a civil servant over slurs added to pages linked to Hillsborough and Liverpool FC, automated Twitter “bots” are being created to highlight edits from national parliaments.

Now the government face questions over attempts on their computer network to make changes to controversial web sites.

One anonymous user on a government network made edits to the entry for Damilola Taylor to change the phrase “was murdered” to simply say that read that he had “died”.

Another edit remarked that the death of Lee Rigby was “not notable enough” for an article on terrorism and deleted the entire section on his death.

And one anonymous user on a government computer added seven long paragraphs that sought to make the case in favour of the economic benefits for rail privatisation.

A left-wing anti-globalisation movement was branded a “dictatorship” in an edit, while details of convictions of animal rights activists were added on a regular basis.

The edits were all made from internet addresses that have in the past been confirmed as being on the Government Secure Intranet (GSI), the system through which government workers, including some police officers, connect to the internet.

All Wikipedia edits are visible in the history of the page, as is the internet protocol address that made the change, which can reveal the computer network from which an edit originates.

Channel 4 News investigation by Mike Deri Smith and Fatima Manji.