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Last Updated: Friday, 24 August 2007, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Howard row over Wikipedia edits
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Staff in the Australian prime minister's department have been accused of editing potentially damaging entries in online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

Workers made 126 edits on subjects such as immigration policy and Treasurer Peter Costello, a local daily said.

The details came from a new website that tracks those who make edits. Staff from the CIA and the BBC among others have also made changes, it has shown.

A spokesman for PM John Howard said he had not asked staff to edit Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is an internet-based free encyclopaedia that anyone can add to or make changes to.

Defence Department

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, a worker in Mr Howard's department added the word "allegedly" to the assertion that immigration detainees were subject to inhumane conditions.

Changes were also made to the online profile of Peter Costello, Mr Howard's deputy and treasurer. A derogatory nickname - Captain Smirk - was removed.

A link was also added to a section on the children overboard affair of 2001.

The government had claimed that a group of asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea to ensure they were rescued by the Australian navy - something later disproved by a Senate inquiry.

An employee added a link highlighting a Senate report which criticised a former government adviser who had claimed that Mr Howard misled the Australian public over the affair.

The new website, Wikipedia Scanner, also identified computers at Australia's Defence Department as being behind more than 5,000 changes to the site, the daily said.

Although many of the edits were factual or unrelated to the government, the department said on Friday that it had acted to block staff from editing the site.

"Defence has closed personal edit access down, though employees will still be able to browse Wikipedia for information purposes," a spokesman said.

Australia's opposition Labor leader Kevin Rudd said it was legitimate for staff to make changes of a factual nature, but that it was wrong for public servants to re-edit history.

Wikipedia Scanner cannot pinpoint individual editors, but it can identify the organisation whose computer network was used to make the change.

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