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French intelligence agents threaten Wikimedia volunteer

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By Cantons-de-l'Est, The ed17, and Tony1
This week's lead story is a collaboration between the French news outlet Regards sur l'actualité de la Wikimedia (RAW) and the Signpost.
Rémi Mathis, chairman of Wikimédia France and the French Wikipedia administrator forced by intelligence agents to delete an article that allegedly contained classified information
The oval reading room in the National Library of France

Last Friday, the Wikimedia movement awoke to news that one of their number—Rémi Mathis, a French volunteer editor—had been summoned to the offices of the interior intelligence service DCRI and threatened with criminal charges and fines if he did not delete an article on the French Wikipedia about a radio station used by the French military.

The 30-year-old Mathis graduated from the prestigious École Nationale des Chartes for archivists and librarians in 2007. He is now a historian, library curator, and free-culture advocate, specialising in archival science—the diagnosis and restoration of decayed or damaged artifacts. Since 2010 he has been editor-in-chief of the scholarly journal Nouvelles de l'estampe ("News about prints"), which is supported by his employer, the National Library of France in Paris.

The "atypical" Mathis has been described as a "conveyor of knowledge", occupying a space "between two ages", represented by archival prints and modern technologies such as Twitter. Until the past few days, he was a volunteer administrator on the French Wikipedia, which he has edited since February 2006; he is the chair of Wikimédia France.

The bulk of the French-language article on Station hertzienne militaire de Pierre-sur-Haute (Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station) was written by Qvsqvs, who has a total of just four edits. The article remained in this state from July 2009 to March 2013, and while no sources were cited, French Wikipedians have noticed many similarities between the article and a publicly available video in which a reporter is given a tour of the base and conducts an interview with its commander.

The initial sequence of events

[Mathis] felt threatened and he was shocked

 — Christopher Henner, vice-president of Wikimédia France

[It is the chapter's] duty to denounce such acts of censorship against a French citizen and Wikipedia editor. Has editing Wikipedia officially become risky behaviour in France?

 — Statement by Wikimédia France

The story began on 4 March, when the Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur, abbreviated DCRI and translated as "Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence", contacted the Wikimedia Foundation and demanded that they take down the article under articles 413-11 of the French penal code ("jeopardizing the national defense"). The Foundation declined, saying that it could not see what the DCRI thought was classified, and requested additional information to identify the security issue; however, the agency did not respond. An anonymous source has since said the problematic text revolved around the base's role in the advent of a major nuclear war.

After a surprisingly long interval of four weeks for a matter purported to concern national security, DCRI then chose a different tack, summoning Rémi Mathis to its offices on 4 April and ordering him to delete the page. The DCRI agents told Mathis that the law applies to the article and to him personally—despite the absence of any link between him and the article or its subject, or his knowledge of either. If he had refused, the agents told him, he would be thrown into jail and prosecuted (under French law, which lacks habeas corpus, citizens may be held for up to 48 hours without cause).

Christopher Henner, the vice-president of the Wikimédia France chapter, told the Guardian that "The DCRI regularly asks us to go and explain to their operatives how Wikipedia works, so this volunteer thought he'd been summoned to explain or show them something. Had the DCRI presented us with documents or a legal order showing us this was a threat to national security we would have taken down the page at once. Instead they summoned one of our volunteers and ordered him to take it down, saying he would be held in custody if he didn't. Yes, he felt threatened and he was shocked."

A spokesman for the French government disputed the characterization of the agents' actions as threatening: "in a state of law, the threat of taking legal action against a passage that poses a problem for national security cannot be considered a threat."

Deletion, discussion, and surrender of admin status

Facing this stark choice, Mathis complied with their demands. Mathis told other administrators of his out-of-process deletion and explained that any French citizen who restored it could be sanctioned, as he believed that it was covered under 413-11. This could carry significant penalties, including five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 euros. (The related 413-10 is even harsher, specifying seven years in jail and a €100,000 euro fine.) The article was restored on 5 April by a Swiss Wikipedian, who is outside French jurisdiction.

Mathis's action drew many comments from French Wikipedians. It was noted that a picture of the station is still on Commons, which the agency appeared to have missed. Someone else suggested that it be hidden from public view, but oversighting is "uncommon" and does not apply in this case. Another contributor asked why the Foundation did not intervene; but Arkanosis replied: "It would not be the first time that the foundation has relied on volunteers to make a decision that it does not want to take itself." Arkanosis pointed out that Wikimédia France has no authority over article content, but the Foundation offers legal counsel to any editor under threats or pressure because of their Wikimedia involvement (Editor's note: Arkanosis' comment is not accurate; the Foundation cannot give legal advice, but it can refer contributors to the Legal Fees Assistance Program or their policy on the defense of contributors, through which it may be possible to "[secure] local independent counsel to defend individual users, or [provide] public support.")

Administrator Hégésippe Cormier asked other administrators to support Mathis, while others suggested that a defense fund should be created to cover any legal costs. To reduce the external pressure on Mathis, Dr Brains asked him to give up his administrator status for his personal safety—a suggestion that was poorly received by some administrators. Dr Brains replied that Mathis's two Wikimedia-related roles—his administrator status and chairmanship of Wikimédia France—were a danger to both him and Wikipedia. However, the Signpost notes that despite Mathis's high visibility, under similar circumstances any French citizen volunteer contributor could be pressured into deleting allegedly offensive content where the DCRI or a similar agency knows their name and address.

The debate quickly snowballed into a much larger question: should the French Wikipedia allow someone to be an administrator if they are a member of a chapter, as their names, addresses and phone numbers are public, making them easy targets for the French intelligence agencies? This exchange coalesced around Ash Crow (WMFR employee), Benjism89 (WMFR board), Remi Mathis (WMFR board) and Serein (WMFR employee), then widened its scope: since some countries have anti-democratic legal and security practices, should their citizens be automatically disqualified from stewardship?

On 6 April 2013, five contributors of the French Wikipedia—all citizens of France and including the four named WMFR employees and board members—requested the withdrawal of their administrator rights, which was implemented.

Media coverage

Reactions to the event from media outlets were swift, with blogs chiming in first (Geekosystem, Battleground); this was followed by online news outlets (arstechnica, zdnet, Boing Boing); and then by major news outlets (the Guardian, France24, Russia Today).

Wikimédia France and the Wikimedia Foundation promptly issued statements, with the chapter's—alongside a post on wikimedia-l—the first to break the news. The chapter stated, in part:

The Foundation responded via its legal counsel, Michelle Paulson. She detailed the Foundation’s interactions with the DCRI on the matter before issuing a strong condemnation of their tactics:

Rémi Mathis declined the Signpost's invitation to comment on the matter.

In a comedic irony for the French intelligence service, articles have suddenly popped up in 26 other Wikipedias, while Twitter has been abuzz with the matter (Editor's note: this includes the Signpost's Twitter account). The article's views skyrocketed in the day after the event, up by more than 45,000%.

It appears that the French Wikipedia article on the Pierre-sur-Haute military base will be around for quite some time; however, internet freedom and intimidation by nation states of people who contribute to the net is still a burning question. Only last week, the Russian government published the list of Wikipedia pages they intend to blacklist. The action comes as part of a new law passed last year that spawned protests and the Russian Wikipedia blackout last July. The law allows "extrajudicial blacklisting of web content deemed to be promoting suicide, pedophilia or drug use", according to the state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti.

In brief

The precursor to the Milan meeting: Wikipedia in Education meeting at Wikimania 2012, Washington DC
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"2009 to March 2009" - Huh? KTC (talk) 07:14, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

EC: The link in The article remained in this state from is missing space in front of July, July 2009 to May 2009 is probably typo of some sort and the permanent link version number leads to . Something is rotten in that sentence. --07:17, 10 April 2013 (UTC), Utar (talk)

Whoops, that was missed by me. Thanks to your eagle eyes and Closedmouth for the assist! Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 07:30, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I changed the version number to the first 2013 version one. Was this the intended version link or which one? --07:34, 10 April 2013 (UTC), Utar (talk)
I got to that just before you posted! I meant to point to revision 81104004, but a couple of numbers went missing somewhere. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 07:37, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

This report should really mention the words "Streisand effect" :) --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 08:15, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Piotrus, thanks for your suggestion. The "Streisand effect" was leapt onto by just about every news coverage, and generally not glossed despite my suspicion that many people don't know the meaning. We intended that this report have its own angles. Tony (talk) 08:34, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I had some experience of French official methods in 1979. Don't assume that the article in question is what they are really worried about. It seems quite likely that they wanted to warn off those who in future might push the envelope in posting sensitive information. Charles Matthews (talk) 08:57, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Charles, that is scary. I don't doubt the likelihood you've raised. Tony (talk) 09:52, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • The comment regarding « stewardship in senstivive countries » was from Rhadamante, not Elfix ; and I am not taotally convinced you accurately report his views (he did not really widened the scope, he echoed previous discussions on Meta that were metionned on Twitter a fex days before the events). Jean-Fred (talk) 11:33, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Why don't the intelligence services infiltrate Wikipedia using sleeper agents, some of whom eventually become Admins and Arbitrators while most others will remain content editors? Then they can have much more influence over sensitive content, without the World knowing that they are activily involved in subverting Wikipedia. Count Iblis (talk) 13:01, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I have suggested the possibility that they are already doing so. Bearian (talk) 13:34, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
We know all too well that the Chavez regime has been doing that—at least in relation to some Venezuala-related articles. Tony (talk) 13:56, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
US, for example: Aerospace Data Facility, East. perhaps the time is ripe for a AfC? Dogue (talk) 15:41, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

<An independent opinion> What an atrocious state of affairs. That it's on Wikipedia with sources should tell the Government that it's already public knowledge and thus there's no point hiding it. Secondly, the threatened admin should be aware that on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog and thus have refused, because it's unenforceable. What has happened is total horseshit and shouldn't have ever happened.--Launchballer 16:24, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Well, it's worth nothing that it had only one source at the time. It was also a highly visible Wikipedian who was called in and threatened with jail and criminal prosecution. Regardless of his opinion on its enforceability in court, would you have really wanted to test that and call their bluff? Would anyone here? Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 17:51, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
You're damn right I would. It's disgraceful what they've done and it needs someone to stand up for it. However, seeing now that there is only one source I'd probably go about sourcing it first before I do anything else. How many sources does it have now?--Launchballer 18:59, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Featured censored article of the week

Wikipedia needs an event for banned articles and websites similar to the American Library Association's Banned Books Week. The Turkish ban on Wordpress subdomains immediately comes to mind, as does the various internet blockages in Myanmar and the proposed Saudi ban on Skype. Perhaps an award for the year's most boneheaded attempt at repression, named, say, the Remi Award. —Neotarf (talk) 16:43, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

List yes, event no as that carries the risk of violating WP:NEUTRAL.--Launchballer 19:00, 10 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
If there is any such list or article on Wikipedia, I have been unable to find it. —Neotarf (talk) 02:50, 12 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Why not create it?--Launchballer 10:45, 12 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I have no plans to create either Banned Wikipedia articles or Banned websites, but if someone else wants to write them, I would certainly read them. I see France has now been added to Censorship of Wikipedia. —Neotarf (talk) 00:54, 13 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Response from WMF

I applaud WMF Legal for posting a statement on the French Wikipedia's admin noticeboard stating When governments have security concerns about Wikipedia articles, they should direct those concerns to the Foundation, and only to the Foundation. We believe it is unnecessary, irresponsible, and often counter-productive for any governmental agency to contact users or volunteers of any Wikimedia website directly. But I was hoping they would have issued a general press release to the media stating the same thing, since not all security agencies are following that advice. Having it on the admin's noticeboard on frwp is great, but will not provide it with much visibility. Issuing a press release when the media attention was active would have helped circulate that advice to the rest of the world, thus helping to avoid similar future events. Perhaps they are working on something like that already. I'm hoping they are. (talk) 04:12, 11 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

New censorship issues with images?

I see an image used in the original piece, a photo of the Direction centrale du Renseignement intérieur, presumably the building where Rémi Mathis was taken for questioning, has just been deleted. At the same time, a photo from the article the French police wanted deleted has just been nominated for deletion. —Neotarf (talk) 03:33, 16 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

It now appears that the images were intentionally deleted from Commons specifically because they were used in this article, and in order to forestall possible complaints from French security. —Neotarf (talk) 10:00, 16 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Just to make things clear, the images have been deleted on Commons because there is no freedom of panorama in France. These two photos of the DCRI are now on the Wikipedia in French [1] [2], where the licences are correct. What says Russavia is totally wrong. NemesisIII (talk) 16:14, 16 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Ah, no. Please read the link that Neotarf provided. Russavia made his intentions abundantly clear. And he is the person (before he was again blocked from en.WP, thank god) who tried an edit-war over the retention of the broken image syntax. Tony (talk) 01:48, 17 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I can understand how an article like this might bring greater scrutiny to an image, and how editors might want to make doubly sure that such images have been properly vetted. However, the images belong in the article, and since properly vetted images are available, the images that were removed should be replaced. Since it was Commons that removed the images, I have asked at Commons for assistance with this. —Neotarf (talk) 07:34, 17 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
As in your complaint on Commons you gave the impression that the availability of the 2 images (which have been deleted due to missing FOP-exemption in France) is a problem, I wonder why you haven't filed one of them for fair-use on :en, as NemesisIII even had provided links to both images on :fr. --Túrelio (talk) 06:30, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Hi, I'm a Commons admin. Neotarf brought the issue to us. The pictures of the DCRI HQ were deleted because they show recent buildings: France doesn't recognise freedom of panorama (see commons:Freedom of panorama#France). These pics, shot by Wikipedians and placed under a free licence, have been uploaded to fr: under a local exception similar to your fair use. I have no doubt you can upload them on en: too under a fair use rationale. You can use fr:Fichier:Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI) - affaire Pierre-sur-Haute.jpg and fr:Fichier:DCRI.jpg to perform the transfer. If for some reason you prefer to take the files directly from Commons, I can undelete them temporarily. Jastrow (Λέγετε) 06:27, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

We have become well aware of what the copyright issues are, and the fact that you're coming here to explain this again to us many days after the damage was done is just plain weird.

The problem is the arrogant assumption by Commons people from the start that every editor in sister projects is an expert in multijurisdictional and cross-project image copyright. The worst manifestation of this was on display in the behaviour of your colleague, Russavia, whom you appear to be blithely supporting at Commons as a matter of admin solidarity (this is something that fosters suspicion and even hatred of admins by other editors). He and others have flagrantly breached your policy on blocking, and he has breached your policy on privacy. Yet you don't seem to give a fig for that, giving the impression that it's one rule for admins and one rule for other editors, at your whim.

Congratulations for fuelling a controversy rather than taking steps to resolve it at the earliest possible time. There would not have been a problem if this person had done the polite and practical thing, briefly alerting the Signpost, explaining the situation, and providing the location of another fair-use image from which to source an en.WP fair-use upload to replace the deleted Commons image. Given timezone differences, Russavia might even have organised a quick upload to en.WP himself, to prevent damage to the article—you people are supposed to be the experts, and Commons is supposed to be serving its sister projects. This disgustingly arrogant behaviour has done a lot to damage relations between the Signpost and Commons, and looks like not being resolved any time soon. You guys need to take a more cooperative approach rather than marching in and edit-warring over a high-profile Signpost page.

The fact that Russavia is still calling the tune at Commons suggests that your community is deeply dysfunctional; and the fact that there has been tit-for-tat blocking of me to pay for his re-blocking from en.WP for a month is just appalling.

It's a great pity that you and your friend Turelio just don't get it: the question is how to properly handle high-profile deletions in relation to sister projects in a way that doesn't disrupt a much-read article, and at the very least to communicate with editors on major actions that degrade their published work. To put it simply, the emphasis seems to be on asserting your power rather than connecting with other editors for the good of readers.

You and several others at Commons seem to be perpetuating that dysfunction rather than looking into ways of preventing it. Shame on you both, and shame on these characters Mattbuck, moogsi, and odder. It smells of a corrupt environment. Tony (talk) 07:07, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

You seem under the impression that calling people corrupt is a trusted way of gaining collaboration. It's not. I can only answer for my own actions. As I understand the edit war happened here, on en:, so it should be dealt with on en:, according to your own policies. I had no part in the blocks. The blocking admin said you were blocked because you sent abusive emails, which seems good reason for me.
Our duty as Commons admins is to our project first. We are bound to delete copyvios when we are aware of them, and that's what we did. If we had to wait for every Wikipedia which uses problematic pictures to have a solution, no copyvio would ever get deleted. fr: was similarly affected by the deletion of these pictures, but they didn't throw any fuss. They saw it wasn't possible to keep the pictures on Commons; they knew they could host the pics locally, so they transferred them. We're not asking you to know multijurisdictional and cross-project image copyright: that's our job. Knowing fair use policies on every sister project isn't our job, though. It's your responsibility to perform the transfer, and we give help when it's needed. That's how it works on a daily basis.
I came here on Neotarf's suggestion to offer help in recovering the pictures. If you're unable to interact with a Commons editor without spewing anti-Commons rant, let other people step in and let's get the job done. Jastrow (Λέγετε) 07:29, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
It's not clear that everyone is aware of why the images were removed, and the amount of initial speculation and continued misunderstanding despite repeated explanation makes reiterating the point seem useful. I'm sorry if you think it's weird, but with the third or fourth attempt to explain gaining little recognition or acknowledgement from some, it's hard to know when to stop.
Allow me to state a few things from my perspective: I demonstrably have very little interest in drama as it occurs on Wikipedia. I did not know Russavia had been blocked here. It did not affect my actions in removing the email access of an editor who was using the system to abuse someone who is not Russavia. For the implication that I'm part of a "corrupt environment": it's dismaying to me that you think that this is the case, but I also find it baffling that you think Russavia is "calling the tune" at Commons. Part of connecting with editors for the good of readers is a bare minimal level of trust. Imagine there is no conspiracy against you here: how would someone feel about being publicly shamed and accused of something they're uninvolved with? moogsi(blah) 08:13, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Oh you're dead right about one thing: there's now zero trust. Tony (talk) 08:18, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Thanks to Jastrow and Túrelio for your offers of assistance. I am in the process of contacting someone who can advise on this, however, given the difference in time zones, it may take a while for a response. —Neotarf (talk) 07:26, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Apologies for the delay in answering. The response I received on this is that the Signpost cannot use fair use images; they can only be used in articles. There can be exemptions, but that doesn't apply in this situation. The applicable policy is WP:NFCCP. —Neotarf (talk) 03:01, 20 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

So Jastowi, it's just not getting through, is it. Your own arrogance is on nice display in your post right now. And what is this you're spouting? Let's take a few statements:

  • "You seem under the impression that calling people corrupt is a trusted way of gaining collaboration. It's not." I certainly don't want collaboration with Commons autocrats. What are you talking about?
  • "I can only answer for my own actions." Yup, typical self-serving admin talk, while you support the corrupt behaviour of your fellow admins. Has it ever occurred to you that admins might function to resolve disputes rather than to shoot people down? No, I suppose it hasn't. That alone would be reason for having you resign from your role. Can we move on from this clubby self-supporting environment?
  • "It's your responsibility to perform the transfer". Helpful, isn't he. Another cloak for arrogance. Any opinion on the flagrant breaches of your own policies by your friends? Or would that be to break ranks? Tony (talk) 08:00, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    • Get a grip. We're talking about two pictures that have been deleted from Commons, and that can easily be transferred here. No need to start chewing the scenery. Jastrow (Λέγετε) 14:52, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
      • No, you get a grip: it's not about the two pictures now, but the corrupt behaviour of your club of Commons people. Get your facts right: only one picture was required. And tell your friend Túrelio that if he continues to stalk me on en.WP, he'll be likely to be blocked from this project. Tony (talk) 04:47, 19 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
        • Whatever. If a Signpost editor is interested in retrieving the picture and needs help from a Commons admin, they know where to find me. I'll be off now, so you can come down from your soap box Tony1. Jastrow (Λέγετε) 07:20, 19 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]


"The precursor to the Milan meeting: Wikipedia in Education meeting at Wikimania 2012, Washington DC" -- this seems a vast overstatement of the education meeting in DC. The education workshop is only a small part of the "Milan Meeting". Maybe some context got lost in editing? effeietsanders 22:04, 16 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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