Web encyclopedia Wikipedia has inadvertently blocked people in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar from editing and contributing entries at least four times since November, computer logs from the site show.
Visitors still could read articles but they weren't able to participate — a crucial task for a collaborative encyclopedia whose core premise is to allow anyone to add, edit or even delete entries, regardless of expertise.
Wikipedia administrators had responded to an unusually high level of spam and fraudulent posts by blocking contributions from the numeric Internet address tied to those posts.
But that resulted in the accidental blocking of the entire nation because Qatar's sole telecom, Q-Tel, funnels all Internet traffic through that single address, a practice that allows the country to monitor and censor its users, said David Gerard, Wikipedia's London-based spokesman. Administrators reversed the block once they discovered the scope.
"Our apologies to the people of Qatar," Gerard said on Wednesday. "It was a mistake. We won't do it again — unless somebody slips up, in which case it will be remedied quickly."
Energy-rich Qatar, the size of Connecticut with about 900,000 inhabitants, is the Middle East's wealthiest country on a per-capita basis. It is the home of the Al-Jazeera satellite TV network and the U.S. military's Central Command forward headquarters overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wikipedia's block logs provided by Gerard show Qataris also were shut out of participating in the encyclopedia's news pages, portals, articles and all other forms of posting on Nov. 22, for 48 hours; on Nov. 25, for 31 hours; and Dec. 28 for 24 hours.
In a posting on Wikipedia, founder Jimmy Wales said the latest block lasted less than 12 hours. He added that any countrywide blocking goes against the site's policy.
Gerard said routing an entire country's traffic — even that of a tiny nation like Qatar — through a single IP address is unusual. He said Wikipedia is looking for a way to refine its capabilities to block problem individual users in the Gulf state without hamstringing the entire country.