Trust, bot verify. Thanks to the constant nature of the Internet, it’s no longer taboo to spend time on non-work related tasks throughout the day — even within the halls of government buildings.
“It’s not just data nerds but people who seem to be genuinely interested in politics.” – Edward Summers, @edsu, creator of @congressedits
- What sparked the idea to track IP addresses in the UK/US?
Tom: It’s been done many times before! I did it in 2010 — and there are loads of articles from the last few years where newspapers have done the same. I just realised no-one had set up a Twitter bot for it!
Ed: I saw @parliamentedits (a friend of mine in the UK retweeted it) and I thought it looked like an interesting idea to try on this side of the pond.
- What specific physical addresses do you track (and what is the general range of an IP address for a location)?
Tom: The British Parliament’s easy: all the computers within it have only two public-facing IP addresses, and they were revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request!
Ed: You can see the IP address ranges for the House and Senate.
I obtained these initially from a Wikipedia article, then asked Josh Tauberer (@joshdata) who started the site Govtrack, and he pointed me to a set of ranges he uses in Govtrack.
- Does this include mobile devices?
Tom: Nope: I can only track use from official, Parliamentary computers.
Ed: If their mobile device is on a local wifi network in the House or Senate it might. If they are on mobile broadband, definitely not.
- What are the limitations on tracking IP in this manner — for example, can people easily hide their addresses, and how would you know if they did?
Tom: It’s trivially easy to hide your addresses, and I wouldn’t be able to tell. (But it’s always worth checking where edits to politicians’ own pages come from — there are sometimes some rather suspicious patterns in there!)
Ed: IP addresses are only made available for anonymous edits to Wikipedia. If a staffer or politician is logged in to Wikipedia and makes an edit, it will not show up at @congressedits. I imagine (but do not know for certain) that this is done for privacy reasons, since Wikipedia would not want to make a stream of data available that both identified a logged in user as well as their IP address, since an IP address can be used to geolocate someone.
- What has surprised you the most?
Tom: So far, it’s picked up no edits — they’re actually quite rare — so ask me again in a few months’ time!
Ed: I was surprised to get a couple changes pretty much right after I turned it on. I was kind of surprised that the changes were quite humorous. It has only found 6 edits from anonymous edits so far, so it’s kind of too early to say. Check out the Wikipedia article about edits from Congress for some more context.