Can Wikipedia Be a Source of Evidence?

Badasa v. U.S.: Here’s a US immigration case in which the US government offered information from Wikipedia to support its argument about the status of Ethiopian travel documents. The appeals court eventually found that this was not a good source of evidence, and sent the matter back for reconsideration.

ArsTechnica has the story.

Does this sound right to you? Would a print encyclopedia be any better?

I don’t see in this story any concern about the hearsay nature of the evidence — like that of any website, pretty well, surely — though that might depend on the use being made of it (i.e. the usual rules about what hearsay is and when it might be used anyway would apply.)

Will the reasoning in this case change the way you do research to support your legal opinions and arguments?


  1. The Canadian government has tried using it in IRB hearings too, as evidence of conditions in other countries. It should be definitively rejected by all courts and tribunals as it can be altered by anyone at any time. Setting aside the interesting debate about Wikipedia’s accuracy in general as compared to regular encyclopedias, I think it should never be relied upon for anything formal. To discredit it in court, one could just alter the article to say something silly, like Big Bird being the head of state (and quickly change it back after printing), and thus show its alterability and unreliability — although that technique might annoy your decision maker.

  2. I wouldn’t want to be the first lawyer to have a Wikipedia article accepted as evidence…big risk for a client.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised to read that a judge took judicial notice of something that was represented by a Wikipedia entry.