On Saturday, Wikimedia France posted a press release regarding the recent deletion of a Wikipedia entry titled “Station hertzienne militaire de Pierre-sur-Haute.” According to the foundation, France's Homeland Intelligence agency had demanded “classified” information taken down from Wikipedia.fr, and when the Wikimedia Foundation (which hosts Wikipedia) refused, it allegedly sought out a volunteer systems operator with the power to delete articles, brought him to the agency's office, and demanded that he take the article down there or face legal charges.
The controversial entry has since been put back up online by Wikipedia volunteers, and concerns a military compound which is about 75 miles west of the French city of Lyon. The entry had existed on French-language Wikipedia for many years, but recently came to the attention of officials in France's Homeland Intelligence agency, known as the DCRI (Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur). Wikimedia France says the DCRI contacted the Wikimedia Foundation in early March, requesting that the article be taken down due to its divulging “classified military information.” But, the foundation refused the DCRI's request.
”The Wikimedia Foundation considered that they did not have enough information and refused to grant their request.” the press release said. “The Wikimedia Foundation has often collaborated with public authorities to follow legal decisions. It receives hundreds of requests every year asking for the deletion of articles, and always complies with clearly motivated requests.” Numérama found that the information in the Pierre-sur-Haute entry “corresponds almost perfectly” to an earlier video interview given by the commander of the military compund to a journalist who had the right to be at the station. In other words, it's not immediately apparent what information could possibly have been classified.
In Wikipedia.fr's administrator forum, the volunteer in question posted on April 4 that he had deleted the entry because it had violated Article 413-11 of the French criminal code, which punishes possession or access to any “process, object, document, information, computer network, [or] computer data file” that contains information pertaining to secrets of national defense. “French police called me in as an administrator, following the refusal of the Wikimedia Foundation to remove this article,” the volunteer wrote.
The volunteer's post was short, but Wikipedia seems to have had more information from the volunteer on what happened before he deleted the information:
This volunteer, which was one of those having access to the tools that allow the deletion of pages, was forced to delete the article while in the DCRI offices, on the understanding that he would have been held in custody and prosecuted if he did not comply. Under pressure, he had no other choice than to delete the article, despite explaining to the DCRI this is not how Wikipedia works. He warned the other sysops that trying to undelete the article would engage their responsibility before the law.
This volunteer had no link with that article, having never edited it and not even knowing of its existence before entering the DCRI offices. He was chosen and summoned because he was easily identifiable, given his regular promotional actions of Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in France.
Michelle Paulson, a legal counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, replied in the administrator forum early Friday, explaining the situation and telling admins that the Foundation would not prevent them from re-posting the information in question :
The Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur requested that we delete the article in its entirety under the claim that it contained classified military information. I responded to Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur, requesting more detailed information because it was not apparent what classified information the article could possibly contain from a plain reading of the article. The Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur repeatedly failed to provide any further information and simply continued to make a general takedown demand, despite my explanation that we could not remove the information without more information from them. Eventually, I had no choice but to refuse their request until they are willing to provide me with more information so that I can properly evaluate their claim under legal standards. The community remains free, of course, to retain or remove the article as it sees fit. But at this point, we do not see a demonstrated reason to remove it on legal grounds.
According to Wikiscan, which publishes statistics about Wikipedia.fr, the “Station hertzienne militaire de Pierre-sur-Haute” entry is currently the most-viewed page in french-language Wikipedia, broadly beating “The September 11th Attacks” and “Jérôme Cahuzac,” France's chief tax collector who is currently embroiled in a tax-dodging scandal.