Wikipedia and the Court: A Lesson from the US Court by Saritha Thonoor


The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which said The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) committed no big foul in using a site editable by anyone with a computer to decide the fate of a woman named Lamilem Badasa. DHS decided to deport Badasa after consulting Wikipedia to decide whether a Ethiopian travel document known as a laissez-passer was adequate to prove her identity.

Using the Wikipedia page as evidence, the government convinced an immigration judge that the document did not prove her identity, calling it a one-way travel document based on information provided by the applicant. While the Board of Immigration Appeals subsequently said it didn’t "encourage the use of resources such as Wikipedia.com in reaching pivotal decisions in immigration proceedings," it allowed the decision to stand since it couldn’t find any clear error.

The three-judge panel of the Appeals Court found that decision disturbing. The court reiterated that anyone can edit Wikipedia and there’s no guarantee that the information on the page at the time the government officials looked at it had any correct information at all. The judges ruled, the site may have misled and tainted government officials’ decisions in the case. The appeals court sent the case back down to the Board of Immigration Appeals to have it explain why it believes Wikipedia didn’t taint the entire decision-making process.

Hon’ble Justice Markandey Katju recently in the case of
D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal (decision dated 21/10/2010 available at ANSWERINGLAW) used Wikipedia to discuss the meaning of the term “Common Law Marriage”. This is not for the first time our Apex Court is relying on Wikipedia and also there is a decision of the Apex Court itself saying that Wikipedia is not a source of information. Has the Court forgotten this? Is the Supreme Court really infallible? 

2 comments: (+add yours?)

Sithara said...

well written

i said...

your post was really helpful to us for a project. We would really appreciate it if you could post the citation of the US judgement as well as the indian one.

Thank you,
Prianca Ravichander

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