Legal/Statement regarding IP block exemptions

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Wikimedia Legal has been contacted by the Ombudsman Commission (“OC”) regarding an investigation by the OC into a practice by some Checkusers (“CUs”), primarily on English Wikipedia, of making preventive mass checks of users who have the IP block exemption (“IPBE”) flag on their Wikimedia user account. The IPBE flag helps users who may have difficulty editing due to a block on their IP address (for example, if they are located in a country where the projects are blocked, the flag will allow them to use anonymizing proxies). Since the IPBE flag makes it more difficult for administrators to deal with potentially problematic accounts, the Checkusers conducted these mass checks to ensure that accounts with the flag were not being used for vandalism or other activities that are against project policies. Following their investigation, the OC produced a report on their findings.

The OC determined that these mass preventive checks are a violation of the Checkuser policy, which requires checks to be made for a “valid reason” and with a “serious motive.” The OC concluded that while users with the IPBE flag may potentially commit abuse, this increase in potential risk does not merit mass checks without further information about specific situations of individual users.

After the OC reported these conclusions to WMF Legal, we reviewed the concern based on Foundation policies. In this case, we conclude that because the issue relates to access to nonpublic information raised under the Checkuser policy, this practice also involves the Access to nonpublic information policy and Privacy policy, which limit community member use of special tools based on relevant community policies such as the Checkuser policy here.

The Checkuser policy was drafted by community members, including some then-members of the Board acting in their personal capacity. It continues to be edited by community members today. The OC has suggested, in response to the issue raised here, that the Checkusers reconsider whether or not these mass preventive checks are needed. If they are determined to be necessary, the Checkusers should establish a process whereby users consent to these checks before receiving the IPBE flag. WMF Legal agrees with this suggestion, and encourages the Checkusers to evaluate whether these mass checks are needed and, if so, to gain permission from IPBE flag users as the OC recommends.

WMF Legal would also like to thank the OC for their thoughtful and diligent work, not only on this case, but in their wider service to the communities and the projects.