On Tuesday, a security researcher obtained a mid-2014 copy of Thomson Reuters' controversial financial crime and terrorism database—a huge cache of publicly sourced information used by banks, lawyers, and governments to research individuals and organisations.
Just like your tutor might discover dodgy references in that late-night essay hastily cobbled together, Motherboard has found that a chunk of profiles in the database use Wikipedia as a source.
Thomson Reuters' database, called World-Check, is used by over 300 government and intelligence agencies, as well as 49 of the world's top 50 banks, according to a company fact sheet. World-Check is designed to give insight into financial crime and the people potentially behind it.
"We monitor over 530 sanction, watch, and regulatory law and enforcement lists, and hundreds of thousands of information sources, often identifying heightened-risk entities months or years before they are listed. In fact, in 2012 alone we identified more than 180 entities before they appeared on the US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list based on reputable sources identifying relevant risks," the Thomson Reuters website reads.
You might not expect one of those sources to be Wikipedia.
According to Motherboard's analysis, over 15,000 entries in the World-Check database reference wikipedia.org as a source. These include profiles which have been designated as "political individual," "diplomat," and "terrorism."
Over 6,500 of the profiles that include Wikipedia sources are for political individuals, 5074 are for other individuals, 624 are labeled as being involved in some form of crime, such as narcotics or financial, and 178 are suspected of terrorism.
Although Wikipedia can be a good source of information, some of the articles cited by World-Check are incomplete or of low quality.
One profile of a suspected, and deceased, terrorist links to a Wikipedia "stub." According to Wikipedia's own definition, a stub "is an article deemed too short to provide encyclopedic coverage of a subject." Another article for a political individual is marked as being "too short and lacks important information." The profiles do include other citations, however, such as media reports.
As VICE News found earlier this year, major charities, activists, and mainstream religious institutions are listed in the World-Check database under the label of "terrorism," despite facing no related charges. Some of these designations were given in part because of information found on blogs, according to VICE News.
Of course, 15,000 profiles is only a tiny part of World-Checks' 2.2 million strong database, and including information from Wikipedia—alongside other sources, of course—isn't necessarily a bad thing.
David Crundwell, a spokesperson from Thomson Reuters, told Motherboard in an email that, "World-Check uses only reliable and reputable public domain sources (such as official sanctions lists, law and regulatory enforcement lists, government sources and trustworthy media publications) for risk-based information or allegations about an individual or entity."
"We also provide secondary identifying information on individuals, such as dates and place of birth, and this will be similarly verified with reputable and official sources. If blog content appears, it is only as a supporting source for that secondary information, and is clearly identified as such," Crundwell added.