Allowing non-administrator users to have access to deleted pages would vastly increase the frequency and volume of legal complaints. (It could have even worse consequences than that in the long term, up to and including corrective legislation by Congress, which would be a disaster.) It is difficult to overstate how much legal and practical difficulty this would cause the Foundation. To be frank, community adoption of such a disastrous policy would create an actual emergency that would likely require Board intervention. I normally favor and support community-driven initiatives, so please believe me when I say I am not raising this set of concerns lightly. The current system is not broken -- so the best advice is 'don't fix it.' MikeGodwin (talk) 13:47, 1 October 2008 (UTC)
I have been asked a couple of times whether, as WMF's present general counsel, I share Mike's view as expressed above. I can confirm that I fully agree with Mike's assessment. Geoffbrigham (talk) 02:18, 27 August 2011 (UTC)
This position was reiterated in response to a discussion on Wikimedia Commons about extending access to deleted material to users with access to the Commons OTRS system, to facilitate handling of OTRS tickets:
We are always respectful of and impressed by community initiatives. For that reason, it is tough for us to put a barrier in front of folks who are sincerely seeking a solution to a challenge. So our apologies in advance, but, to be honest, it will be difficult for WMF to support the proposed solution in this case.
Please allow me to explain in brief. With this proposal, WMF is concerned about possible increased liability for the Foundation and OTRS agents. Sensitive legal matters may be deleted, and, for that reason, increasing the size of the group who can view such deleted material could arguably increase WMF's liability. In addition, OTRS agents could risk personal liability by undeleting content that had been originally deleted for legal reasons (either by the community or WMF). We appreciate the opportunity to be consulted, and we are sorry we cannot support this. Geoffbrigham (talk) 17:31, 6 November 2011 (UTC)
^The default MediaWiki setting is that only administrators ("sysops") have access - see mw:User rights. On English Wikipedia, CheckUsers and Oversighters also have this permission implicitly; however, traditionally (and in almost every case), these users are already administrators. There is also a non-standard "researcher" user group which has some access, although not to the actual text of deleted revisions (they lack the deletedtext user right, having only deletedhistory and browsearchive). Wikimedia stewards also have access to deleted content across Wikimedia, as do other global groups on select projects.
^"viewdelete" and "viewdeleted" are actually informal terms for a bundle of 3 associated MediaWiki user-rights: deletedhistory, browsearchive, and deletedtext - see mw:User rights for what each one does.