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|This page in a nutshell: Confidential evidence may be gathered regarding the behavior of editors for certain administrative purposes. For reasons of transparency, accountability, and fairness, the gathering and use of such evidence requires extra care, and a number of special rules and precautions.|
Some actions, particularly regarding sockpuppets, trolls, and conflicts of interest, require that evidence be gathered and reviewed in secret, that evidence-gathering techniques be secret, and/or that investigative results be kept confidential. As in the off-Wikipedia world, secrecy raises justifiable concerns over fairness, abuse of power, and accurate results. Excessive secrecy can undermine faith in the rules, and trust of those in charge.
Therefore, the norm is that all actions be done publicly. Secrecy is the exception, and requires a compelling reason for each class of investigation done in secret.
Additionally, secrecy is not an all-or nothing proposition. For each category of investigation the rules for gathering, using, acting on, and restricting disclosure of confidential evidence is tailored to balance the need for effective administration of the project against the goals of fairness, accuracy, accountability, and trust.
Unless otherwise provided here, evidence that may be used in blocking or banning users, ArbCom proceedings, determining eligibility for various things, and other actions that are administrative in nature, must be:
- Gathered openly using only tools and techniques that are generally available, understood, or disclosed
- Disclosed to the extent it will be considered or used
- Used only if appropriately presented
- Acknowledged if it is used
Any exceptions require a legitimate reason, either with respect to a general class of investigation (in which case the extent and any special rules for the evidence must be part of this page), or with respect to a specific investigation (in which case the reason must be disclosed).
Legitimate reasons identified to date include:
- Gathering information on likely sockpuppets, meatpuppets, hackers, or trolls, when a checkuser is inappropriate, inclonclusive, or untimely. Because some such people are experienced and persistent, disclosing investigative techniques or raw results might give them an unacceptable level of insight into how to circumvent detection.
- Stalking, harassing, and other malicious behavior. Some abusive behavior presents a real-world threat, or is simply too disruptive or oppressive to be tolerated. Victims, witnesses, and investigators may be justifiably concerned that too much disclosure would incite or facilitate further abusive actions by the perpetrator.
- Protecting the Wikimedia Foundation, or others, from legal jeopardy. Pending or threatened lawsuits, and other legal matters, may require confidentiality, among other reasons to preserve attorney/client privilege (although conversely, any material that is kept confidential by Wikipedia is potentially subject to disclosure in the event of a lawsuit). If appropriate, Foundation personnel and counsel should be consulted on these matters.
General considerations and requirements
When secret evidence is used in any way (gathered, used for making an administrative decision, or kept), the following apply:
- The use must be acknowledged, unless doing so would jeopardize the investigation or the project
- The target of the investigation must be notified
- The specific reason for the exception must be cited, and described in sufficient detail for a reasonable concerned editor to understand and evaluate the appropriateness of keeping the evidence confidential
- The person using the information must be available to answer reasonable questions and requests
- The evidence should be kept indefinitely but in a secure, confidential way, if possible
- Use of secret information should be limited as much as is reasonably possible
- To the maximum extent possible any evidence used against a party should be offered to that party, who should have an opportunity (publicly or confidentially, depending on the circumstances) to dispute it. Where the evidence must be kept secret, it may be summarized or redacted as appropriate.
- The results must be disclosed to the maximum extent possible publicly, and to the target of the investigation, consistent with the need for secrecy
- Within reason, any trusted person who pledges to keep the information confidential should be briefed on or receive a copy of the evidence. Note, however, that depending on the nature of the investigation administrators and bureaucrats may be the target of, or not trusted with respect to a particular investigation.
Policies regarding assuming good faith and avoiding personal attacks should be followed. However, investigations are often conducted to confirm (or disprove) suspicions of behavior that, if true, would not be in good faith. Further, following these rules and keeping information confidential is not seen as a generalized assumption of bad faith, but rather a reasonable way to further security, privacy, and other policy goals.
Review and oversight
- In all cases there should be oversight by at least one neutral administrators, acting independently. The usual way of handling this is that any person who proposes or gathers secret evidence should submit the evidence, once gathered, to a neutral uninvolved administrator who will make the initial decision on whether to approve the use or confidentiality of the information. There may be review by a second neutral administrator, who will confer with and attempt to resolve any disagreement with the first. As a final review, such decisions may be reviewed by any single uninvolved member of ArbCom (or by ArbCom as a whole should they agree).
- Decisions made by ArbCom relating to secret evidence may be reviewed by any single unconflicted ArbCom member who did not participate in the original ArbCom decision or, should none be available, by a single trusted administrator designated by ArbCom for the purpose. The reviewer should state his findings publicly to the extent possible, and privately to ArbComwith respect to anything that must be kept confidential. Should they contradict ArbCom's decision the fact should be noted, and the reviewer and ArbCom should attempt to resolve any disagreement.
- Only parties to the investigation and matters related to the investigation have standing to ask for a review.
- Wikipedia:Blocking policy
- Wikipedia:Dispute resolution
- Wikimedia Foundation