The government has been editing Minister of Industry Jim Prentice's Wikipedia entry, removing mentions of the recent copyright-reform controversy and hailing the minister as personifying "experience, confidence and competence, ability and capability."
The edits, discovered by University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist — a vocal opponent of Prentice's pending copyright legislation — have been anonymously made over the past week with several attempts to remove criticisms of a bill the minister is expected to table before Parliament breaks for its summer session some time over the next few weeks.
Geist, who was tipped off by a reader of his blog, tracked the IP address of the person or persons making most of the edits back to Industry Canada. A spokesperson for Prentice did not return several requests for comment.
The Wikipedia website allows anyone to edit an entry, which allows for incorrect information — or opinionated views — to be added. The site's open architecture provides a way for incorrect information and opinions to slowly be filtered out as additional users add to or remove from entries.
Among the information removed by Industry Canada employees were some paragraphs including speculation, such as:
"Prentice has been responsible for developing new Canadian Intellectual Property laws akin to the DMCA in the United States, partly due to pressure from US-based advocacy groups. While he had promised to 'put consumers first,' the draft legislation seems to cater strictly to industrial groups and Prentice has now suggested consumer interests may not be heard for years. Indeed, Prentice has refused to talk to a group of protesters who went to his office to express their concern."
Another statement that was deleted, this time on May 29, was:
"The minister is planning on introducing a bill on June 5 2008 and is not communicating with the public or the press on the bill. The minister is being heavily influenced by foreign publishers and distributers."
On May 27, Geist said someone from Industry Canada added the following information:
"Recent developments have shown that no such draft legislation exists and that Minister Prentice has yet to publically release any documents on the copyright issue. Minister Prentice is expected to draft a bill on copyright that will strike a balance between consumers and producers, while bringing Canada in line with current WIPO international standards."
The glowing comments about Prentice were added on May 29, Geist said, and included claims that "Prentice has been praised for his strong management of the Industry portfolio. He has been dubbed the unofficial deputy prime minister, and is seen as the strongest Minister in the Harper government."
The praise, however, was quickly deleted, Geist said. A statement that Prentice is a possible future contender for leadership of the Conservative Party was still up as of this writing, as was a section titled "copyright controversy" that read:
"It is rumoured that Prentice has been responsible for developing new Canadian Intellectual Property laws akin to the DMCA in the United States, partly due to pressure from US-based advocacy groups. While he had promised to 'put consumers first,' the commentators have suggested that the draft legislation seems to cater strictly to industrial groups and Prentice has now suggested consumer interests may not be heard for years. Indeed, Prentice has refused to talk to a group of protesters who went to his office to express their concern stating 'When (Canadian Heritage Minister Josée) Verner and I have reached a consensus and we're satisfied, we will introduce a bill.'"
The editing of Wikipedia pages by political staff is not a new phenomenon. Politicians in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Japan have had their entries edited by staff.