My post Cooperative hands across the sea referred to an article by Jason Baron on Ralph Losey’s e-Discovery Team blog. Jason’s article attracted some comments, two of which are worth hiving off for comment in their own right. One concerns the “information war” and is covered here. The other is about lawyer education which I will come back to.
Dr Jochen Lardner urges the importance of having the skills to conduct searches in any area of life in an information economy. He refers to “authority/credibility, censorship, technical failure, cybercrime/disinformation/information warfare”. Regular readers will know of my strongly-held view that all of these things, with the possible exception of cybercrime, are areas where UK citizens must do battle daily with their own government, both defensively (it will record everything about you and then lose the data) and offensively (MP’s expenses, ministerial cover-ups).
It now seems likely that the Labour Government will die of weakness and internal corruption before we get to the hanging-from-lamp-posts stage of civil disturbance which seemed a real possibility earlier this year. Nevertheless, we must remain alert to the potential for government misuse (whether by carelessness, incompetence or design) of the mass of private information which is collected about us, and be able to fight fire with fire – the “disinformation/information warfare” to which Dr Lardner refers is a civil war as well as one against foreign powers.
I wrote about this in April under the heading An information war – making connections between privacy, liberty, policing, law and government. It is interesting that it is not only me who sees a connection between electronic discovery and wider issues of information use. You may like an update on some of the things covered in that article and in a top-up piece called Keeping informed on information about information.
Starting with the most recent, the EU proceedings against the UK for breach of its obligations to enforce data privacy laws was largely the result of the government’s failure to deal with BT’s involvement with a data-gathering company called Phorm. Phorm is the developer of internet “spying” technology (the description comes from an article in Tuesday’s Times). BT had secretly tried out Phorm’s technology, using 36,000 of its broadband customers as unconscious guinea-pigs for a system which tracks internet use, makes deductions about the user’s interests, and serves up relevant advertising content.
One suspects that New Labour rather likes this sort of thing – the government which has destroyed the privacy of the ballot box would appreciate the ability to target specific users, perhaps for a little “re-education” as to the merits of the Dear Leader. It would be one hypocritical step too far even for Labour to enforce privacy laws, just as it is hypocritical in the extreme for the European Commission simultaneously to require member states to collect e-mail data (as it has) and to enforce its privacy obligations. The Phorm story is topical because, as the Times story tells us, BT and CarPhone Warehouse have backed away from using its spying technology.
Another of my topics which has resurfaced this week concerns the masked bully in a paramilitary uniform who beat up a passer-by for the offence of walking too slowly, causing his death shortly afterwards. It transpires that this police officer had already been the subject of disciplinary proceedings for the use of excessive force against a motorist (story here). The government’s obsession with registers and form-filling, which treats each of us as a potential criminal, paedophile or fraudster does not, apparently, extend to ensuring that proven thugs are kept away from jobs involving physical interaction with the public.
The Damian McBride story has also resurfaced in the last few days, with a nice e-discovery angle. McBride, known as McPoison, was hired by New Labour to pass on, embellish or invent stories about Labour’s opponents. The government denies involvement in the “Operation Red Rag” smear campaign, and asks us to believe that McBride, who had an office in Downing Street, peddled his filth with no official backing or knowledge. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has apparently been advised that she might expect a six-figure libel award for things written about her. The extent to which it can be shown that McBride acted under New Labour authority will doubtless be a matter of some debate in the libel proceedings and the disclosure of the e-mails will be fascinating – all that apparently theoretical stuff about e-mail metadata, e-mail chains, copyees and blind copyees will suddenly become the stuff of public news and will advance education of data collections principles enormously. You never know – we may get some arguments about deletions, applications for back-up tapes and a practical example of the need for a forensic data collection. Can’t wait.
The row about MP’s expenses has already increased public awareness of quasi-technical terms like redaction. This is an e-disclosure story of its own, which I will write about separately; the parallels – court applications to enforce disclosure, foot-dragging and threatened contempt of the court’s order, “accidental” destruction and, most importantly, the flushing out of evidence which would otherwise have remained hidden – are too good to waste in a broader general article like this.
Jacqie Smith has resigned as Home Secretary, saying that the intrusion into her family life was too great to bear. Smith had no qualms at all about masterminding a greater degree of intrusion into the lives of the rest of us than any of her predecessors and, although I am generally against hounding ministers out of office for mere incompetence, it is wholly just that Jacqie Smith should suffer by the same sword as she used on us. Besides, mere incompetence was the least of her defects; what we taxpayers call “fiddling her expenses” but which is apparently properly described as compliance with a system now recognised to have been wrong, included the petty (an 88 pence bath plug), the careless (the family porn rentals) and the blatantly dishonest (calling her only property a “second home” on the strength of occasional stays at her sister’s house) were enough to condemn her. Good riddance.
There are enough topics here which directly involve electronic disclosure. The wider issues of information-gathering and its importance for every citizen are just as important.