Checking in on Wikipedia's Patriot Act Entry:
Last October, I blogged a bit about the remarkably bad entry for the USA Patriot Act on the free on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia. Since then, I've checked in on the entry occasionally to see how it is morphing over time. The Wikipedia folks ended up marking the entry as one that needed rewriting, and in recent months the entry has been substantially reworked. I've read the new entry, and it is, well, still remarkably bad.

  Here is the current overview section of the Patriot Act entry, which should give you a feel for the (poor) quality of the entry as a whole:
  Enacted by the U.S. Congress after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, the act enhances the authority of U.S. law enforcement for the purported intention of investigating and preempting potential terrorism. Because the USA PATRIOT Act is a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), this enhanced legal authority is also used to detect and prosecute other alleged potential crimes. Expanding on FISA, the USA Act defines terrorism as an activity that meets all of the following three criteria:

  1. It intimidates or coerces the government or civil population
  2. It breaks criminal laws
  3. It endangers human life.

This definition is adopted in the USA PATRIOT Act. Critics claim the Act is unnecessary and enables U.S. law enforcement to infringe upon free-speech, freedom of the press, human rights, and right to privacy. It is most controversial among critics for its section 216, which allows judges to grant government investigators ex parte orders to look into personal phone and internet records on the basis of being "relevant for an on going investigation", rather than probable cause as outlined in the fourth amendment.
  Almost every sentence in this description is inaccurate or doesn't make sense. Some of the sentences have only minor errors, but others are way off. To pick just a few examples, the Patriot Act is not a revision of FISA; it contains revisions of FISA, to be sure, but the FISA revisions are only about 5 percent of the act. Second, the definion of "domestic terrorism" (not just "terrorism") in the Patriot Act is not an important part of the Patriot Act, as I explained in depth in a post you can access here. Third, I haven't heard criticism of Section 216 of the Patriot Act in years. It used to be controversial because early critics simply misunderstood what it did, but as I detailed in this law review article, Section 216 was actually pretty friendly to civil liberties concerns. And keep in mind, this is just the overview.

  Of course, the fact that Wikipedia's Patriot Act entry is so bad doesn't mean that everything on Wikipedia is bad. I have found Wikipedia entries to be quite helpful when the topic is something esoteric. It seems that when fewer people care about a topic, the better the entry tends to be. When lots of people care about something, lots of people think they know something about it — or at least more people feel strongly enough that they want to get their 2 cents worth into the entry. When lots of people have strong opinions about a topic, even uninformed ones, the Wikipedia entry for that topic ends up being something like Tradesports betting odds on who Bush would pick to replace Justice O'Connor. It's an echo chamber for the common wisdom of the subset of people who use the site more than anything else. And if the views in the echo chamber happen to be way off, then so is the entry.

  Anyway, when I blogged on this topic last fall, I received a bunch of e-mails from the Wikipedia faithful explaining that universal law mandated that all Wikipedia entries were on an inevitable path to encyclopedic perfection. Now that we're enabling comments, I hope the faithful will offer some thoughts in the comment section on why perfection seems to be taking an unusually long time in the case of the Patriot Act entry.