“On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog,” says a classic New Yorker cartoon. True, perhaps. But we do know who owns you and where your kennel is.

On 28 June someone using the Internet (IP) address removed the words ‘AKA “Captain Smirk”‘ from Wikipedia’s article about Peter Costello.

Virgil Griffith’s wonderful new Wikiscanner tells us this “anonymous” edit was done by someone in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. And that’s confirmed by the Australia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) – the region’s definitive source for “who owns what”.

Now the PM’s departmental secretary Dr Peter Shergold denies this, saying APNIC’s database is out of date. Their ISP Macquarie Telecom re-assigned that IP address to someone else ages ago, he reckons.

Macquarie is staying schtumm, citing client confidentiality – though if they haven’t kept APNIC data up to date they look pretty incompetent. It’s like re-letting an apartment and forgetting to register the bond money.

But hang on… IP addresses aren’t assigned at random. They come in blocks.

And APNIC says that the addresses from to all belong to PM&C.

If you dig through the IP addresses starting with 210.193.176 you find that most of them for which data is available are front ends for a pile of government agencies – everything from innovation.gov.au and biotechnology.gov.au to coagbushfireenquiry.gov.au and search.investaustralia.gov.au. And sitting right on is the PM’s very own website.

From both network engineering and administrative points of view, it’s pretty unlikely that an IP address in the middle of this block would be assigned to anyone but another government agency. Shergold’s claim that the magic .115 address belongs to someone else looks pretty shaky – though depending on his technical competence he may think it’s the truth.

But with no horse races to bet on this week, I’d put my money on a government employee having made that change – whether they were “specifically instructed” to or not.

Wikipedia has now nominated the Peter Costello article as their Australian Collaboration of the Fortnight. “Please help improve it to featured article standard,” they ask.

Anyone at PM&C want to lend a hand? Woof.

Addendum: As of just now, Costello’s Wikipedia page includes:

In Australia Peter Costello is affectionately known as “captain smirk” by the media and popular comedy teams such as the chaser a satirical news and political programme. It is of common knowledge that this Wikipedia entry has been edited by the government to attempt to remove this nickname from popular usage in an effort to withhold incredibly vital information from the public during the election season.

No doubt it will be changed shortly.