[Foundation-l] check user...

Robert Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Sat Mar 31 17:45:30 UTC 2007

Gregory Maxwell wrote:
> I'll revise my position based on Aphaia's comment below:
> "I think that being at least the age of majority in their country of
> residence is important".
> Checkusers are in a somewhat unique position to cause irreversible
> harm and cause legal problems for themselves and the foundation. As
> such they should be old enough to assume legal responsibility for
> their actions.
> Just be glad that I'm not also suggesting that checkusers be insured. ;)

I disagree that the damage that somebody using checkuser privileges is 
necessarily irreversible and necessarily causes too many legal problems 
"for themselves and the foundation."  There is obviously an extreme case 
or two where this may be the case, but on the whole I can't really seen 
where revealing the IP address of a user is necessarily going to be a 
major problem.  At best, the worst damage that can happen is to document 
what computer an edit actually took place on.  Only with 3rd party 
records would it even be remotely possible to tie this with a specific 

In addition, any user, including anonymous users, can trace the IP 
addresses of many of the contributors to Wikimedia projects.... that is 
the default log-in type.  And accidental disclosure of IP addresses are 
almost inevitable for most users, especially if you accidentally make an 
anonymous IP edit because the cookie in your browser has expired (it has 
for me on a couple of occasions).  For example (and I mention this 
because he also did one of these accidental disclosures and later noted 
this IP address explicitly)  Richard Stallman of the Free Software 
Foundation fame is also [[w:User:Rmstallman]], and by only accessing 
Wikipedia by anonymous status (I wasn't even logged into my Wikipedia 
account), I can find out that at least one of the IP addresess he has 
used to edit Wikipedia was with


Mr. Stallman in this case claims these IP edits as his own in a public 
manner, so in this case I don't think this is improper disclosure.  But 
it is ilustrative of how people without checkuser privileges could still 
obtain this information.

I know that similar kinds of revelations of IP address can also be done 
with my own account.  Or at least make a very strong circumstantial case 
where all you would have to ask the WMF or a "check user" would be 
something like "Could you confirm that address is being used 
by User:Jimbo Wales?"  Even if the WMF doesn't disclose this 
information, an investigator familiar with Wikimedia projects is very 
likely to be able to get this kind of information of a sufficient 
quantity that all of the protections of the check user privileges is 
essentially moot for users who have made a huge number of entries into 
Wikimedia projects.

I would further note that the discussions of trying to protect an 
anonymous user in China wrting something critical of the Chinese 
government are also moot, as that government can make a formal request 
to have that information revealed, and WMF policy is explicit to grant 
that kind of request.

I should note here that I'm not asking for checkuser privileges to be 
made available to all unregistered users, but I believe that the 
paranoia over how dangerous an individual could be even if they made a 
deliberate and conscious effort to disclose IP addresses for many users 
is way overstated.  By giving this user scan ability to people who are 
otherwise considered trusted users on Wikimedia projects, for example 
admins and bureaucrats (I've long challenged that all bureaucrats should 
have this as a default ability), I fail to see what real damage is going 
to happen.

If a 10-year-old has been given bureaucrat privileges on a Wikimedia 
project, I would be very surprised.  It may also present some 
interesting legal problems for the WMF in terms of liability for that 
user's actions, but I also believe that any such user who has achieved 
that level of trust in a particular project is going to have a level of 
maturity to keep from abusing the checkuser tool as well.

-- Robert Horning

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