A skirmish has been raging for days over the online Wikipedia biography of Industry Minister Jim Prentice, with anonymous government workers airbrushing out controversial details or buffing Prentice's image, while others just as quickly revised the revisions.
So intense was the battle that Prentice's biography was locked Thursday by Wikipedia administrators "due to vandalism."
Literally hundreds of changes had been made to Prentice's biography over the past week, with many originating from IP addresses that were traced to Industry Canada computers at the department's Queen Street address in downtown Ottawa.
"Even though someone from within Industry Canada thought they were making these changes anonymously - and they are, in the sense of not knowing the precise individual - it was not very difficult to trace back the fact these changes were coming from within the department," Michael Geist, a professor at the University of Ottawa, said Thursday in an interview.
Prentice's office was not immediately available for comment.
Geist's professional interest in copyright law led him to discover the curious editing war.
Prentice is currently sitting on untabled copyright legislation that has been hotly anticipated for months. Critics have chastised the Conservative government for the secrecy of the policy deliberations and for failing to adequately consult consumers.
Last week, a Wikipedia entry on the copyright controversy was deleted from Prentice's biography by someone using an Industry Canada address.
The same government computer then inserted a positively glowing review: "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. He is widely praised in both political and private circles, as he personifies experience, confidence and competence, ability and capability."
This bit of puffery was soon dispatched by another editor and the battle was on.
Among the fast-changing entries that appeared and disappeared from the Prentice biography was one that called the minister "a traitor to the Canadian People and hopes to sell of (sic) Canada's copywrite (sic) law to struggling American conglomerates."
By Thursday morning, the escalating rewrite war had been halted by Wikipedia's volunteer administrators, although revisions continued throughout the day - albeit only by established, registered Wikipedia users.
It's a periodic hazard for the immensely popular, free-content encyclopedia, which allows readers to revise and update entries on millions of subjects and individuals.
Jay Walsh, spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco, said in an interview there are tens of thousands of living people with biographies on Wikipedia, "so challenges about information are not uncommon."
Walsh said neutrality of language and guarding against conflicts of interest are two of the central pillars of Wikipedia.
"The edits which should be trusted would come from people who don't possess a conflict of interest," he said.
"In this case, it would be worthwhile saying that if someone is making edits from a computer within the government of Canada ... if it was someone within that ministry, that would theoretically constitute a conflict of interest."
Rather than changing one's own biography to correct factual errors, or getting an underling to do it, Walsh said individuals can contact the volunteer content managers to ask for an intervention.
Geist agreed that Prentice's staff has every right to challenge material posted on Wikipedia.
"One would think, though, that it's appropriate to do so in a transparent fashion," said the academic, an expert in privacy rights, copyright and the Internet.
"What I find compelling here is the lack of transparency around this particular issue - the attempt to anonymously buff up or scrub comments on what is a clear controversy over the copyright bill - and the lack of transparency within the copyright process itself."