The e-discovery 2.0 blog scored an exclusive with a recent post. Under the heading Government Launches Bold New Recovery Effort, it reported the nationalisation of the US electronic discovery industry. A new authority, the National Electronic Discovery Institute (NERDI) was apparently set up with a new portal at EDiscovery.gov with effect from 1 April. In response, the Socha-Gelbmann Top 5 has consolidated under the name ClearGuideAutoKrolLexFTios.
It is faintly disturbing that this could easily be read from top to bottom without a blink. Tom Lehrer famously said that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger made satire obsolete. How can a mere spoof compete with the daily news at the moment? How about “Home Secretary claims 88p bath plug and her family’s porn viewing from taxpayer”? That particular (true) item is rivalled only by one yet more risible from a while back: “Brown appoints Jacquie Smith as Home Secretary”. How funny is that? (not very, actually, if you value liberty, privacy and the right to sleep soundly at night, but that is for another article).
Almost anything said by President Sarkozy sounds like parody – a newspaper listed six quotations last week and challenged us to say which one was not actually uttered by Sarko. They were all ludicrous, and all alarmingly possible. How about “Brown denounces tax havens whilst his City Minister uses them and a state-run bank runs one”? It could not happen. Could it?
It is only by chance that I read past the headline. After 11 years of New Labour, British eyes barely pause over the announcement of a new state organisation, a Quango or a new “initiative”. We have stopped taking much notice, really – a dangerous surrender of our democratic duties.
The announcement comes complete with a link to EDiscovery.gov which proves to be a YouTube demonstration. Searching the state-run documents database apparently requires no more than the entry of the Social Security numbers of the custodian in whom you are interested, a choice between Business, Personal or Both, and some search terms. Security consists of a check box to self-certify that you are authorised to make the search. The advertising tag refers to “the accuracy and precision you have come to expect from the Federal Government”.
That, terrifyingly, is more or less what the UK government’s vast array of databases will allow if Jacquie Smith and her colleagues have their way. Much of it exists already; some is bogged down in failures caused by poor specification and mismanagement; some is yet to come. The upshot will be that tens of thousands of low-grade civil servants will have access to more about you than you know yourself, with little more in the way of security than the YouTube mock-up shows. “Accuracy and precision” do not appear to be part of the specified functionality.
So, although we will laugh on this side of the Atlantic at this clever spoof, our laughter will be on the grim side. State-run electronic disclosure of litigation documents is, fortunately, not an imminent prospect. State-run electronic disclosure of almost everything else – to almost anyone – is an alarmingly close possibility. Ah well, at least the Home Secretary now has personal experience of having her dirty washing put out for all to see. It is just as well that her expenses claim includes two washing machines as well as that 88p bath plug.