A tsunami of tsunamis

By | 11th January 2011

Had I been alive in the era of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt I might be better able to view recent disasters with equanimity.

The biblical account tells us that the Exodus began only after a horrific series of plagues was unleashed by Yahweh on Egypt. The implacable Pharaoh held out until the tenth plague before setting the captive Israelites free. After a taster, involving the turning of staffs into serpents, a succession of calamities was unleashed on Egypt with typical Old Testament ferocity. In turn there were plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and, finally, the death of the firstborn, which the Israelites (who were forewarned to paint their doorposts with lambs’ blood) were spared.  This last plague was the hardest blow upon Egypt and Pharaoh was convinced to let the Israelites go.

When I read about the floods in Queensland, I begin to wonder what else is in store for Australia. It is mind boggling to read about floods covering the equivalent area of the whole of France and Germany and to see the British Isles superimposed on a tiny corner of this huge state. But it is all the more worrying when I read in the same story that snakes are an added danger to rescuers, that there has already been a plague of mice and a lot of frogs – “so we knew the snakes would come” – and that residents have been advised to look out for poisonous spiders and crocodiles.

Add to all this, the result of the Ashes series including a “rash” of huge English innings’ totals in excess of 600 and it has all the makings of another plague!!

Talking of which, the press have been having a field day with other natural disasters. The Lawyer’s recent feature on litigation for the coming year refers in its headline to a litigation tsunami [Top firms gear up for action as litigation tsunami hits UK, The Lawyer, 3rd Jan, 2011].

This particular tsunami has been well flagged in advance and has been a long time coming. I well remember the time when commentators were forecasting a tsunami of electronic documents as a result of increasing use of computers, emails and forms of electronic storage. Frankly they were wrong! It did not happen and I am a little sceptical about a description of the current state of UK litigation as anything approaching a tsunami. Certainly there are some big cases about but all the cases mentioned in the article are of course historical in the sense that with trials approaching the hard work has already been undertaken. Perhaps I have missed something but my impression is that lawyers are busier now than they have been for some time and that is translating into a pleasing increase in work for the likes of Millnet but I do not feel it is a tsunami. Perhaps more like the Severn bore!

The Sunday Times (2nd January 2011) led its New Review section with a piece on the use made by inter alia totalitarian regimes to use the internet to track dissidents and “mould people’s thoughts.”

Written by Evgeny Morozov promoting his book The Net Delusion which is published on January 13th by Allen Lane, the author muses on the possible long term effects of the internet on political life. I find this much more worrying than a tsunami of litigation! Morosov warns that emails, tweets, social networking sites, even blogs may be used by the authorities to keep users under surveillance. After all, we are used to being bombarded by emails from sites where we have made a purchase as the companies concerned harvest the information they require us to provide and make aggressive use of it to try and sell us other products.

Mr Morosov notes that what commercial entities do with information, authoritarian governments can do better. While this might not amount to a tsunami, it seems like a big wave in the wrong direction.