John Wayne never had to put up with this

By | 10th February 2011

Two Red Indian braves are pictured standing on a rocky outcrop looking over a scrubby cactus strewn expanse of desert towards the horizon where four puffs of smoke rise steadily in procession towards the sky. One brave turns to the other and says: “It says that someone has hacked into my emails!”

Matt’s cartoons for The Daily Telegraph have for a long time been favourites of mine so I was particularly amused to see this apposite offering a few days ago as I settled into my seat on the BA flight to New York where I was to attend Legal Tech 2011. As a Legal Tech virgin I was determined to make the most of what is probably the pre-eminent gathering of the Legal Technology industry each year. And I did!

Many other commentators regularly write up the proceedings at Legal Tech and I do not propose to compete with them not least because the musings of a virgin may be of little interest to those more enured to the process. Suffice to say that it was well worth braving the 15 inches of snow sparkling on the streets and in Central Park as well as the biting wind and enjoying the lovely clear sunny skies to meet up with a lot of people whose names I knew and to whom I can at last put a face.

My colleagues Emma Kettleton, Narjara Bueno and I were able to spend time with clients and US law firms outside the conference so our days (and sometimes nights) were pretty full but I managed to visit one of my favourite museums, the Frick Collection, and to visit Ground Zero which, despite myself, I found to be an emotional experience.

It is invidious to mention names at these events as one sees so many people and attends so many events and is entertained by so many kind people that I would hate to leave anyone out. In any event I am getting round to speaking to all those I need to thank on a personal basis.

But I need to mention the people at Index Engines because I am very excited by the technology which enables us to index the contents of back up tapes (rather than restore them) at a cost and over a time which compares very favourably to the old practice of restoration. Meeting those responsible for this remarkable technology was a thrill to a jaded lawyer because using their technology marks a real advance in the process of finding relevant material to use in litigation at a cost which is much more likely to be proportionate than restoration used to be. Anyone wanting to know more should contact me or one of my colleagues as we are actively promoting this product in the market and achieving success with it. It is fair to say that we have not yet encountered anything but praise for this extraordinary advance in unearthing ESI and making it available in short order and at a reasonable cost.

Coming back to the UK from the US is always something of a culture shock so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that the Supreme Court had “approved the use of Twitter in court hearings” as one headline had it. I thought that was odd and could not imagine counsel tweeting to their Lordships or what advantages that would bring.

Of course, once I had read around the subject a bit I realised that what the Court had done was to permit journalists, lawyers and members of the public to tweet about what was going on in court. Bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted, I thought, but not wishing to be churlish I have to concede that, as long as there are safeguards in place in sensitive cases, it is good to see our highest court keeping up with the advances in technology which now rules our lives in so many ways.

This reminds me that the courts are coming to terms with the explosion in the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter and decisions are starting to emerge (such as Macmillan v Hummingbird Speedway Inc, about which I have written before).

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is also getting in on the act. This after a number of highly publicised “mistakes” by the Twitterati in recent weeks. For example, do you remember the ex Liverpool player who tweeted his rant after Manchester United defeated Liverpool last month and sought to make a point by posting a picture of the referee wearing a United shirt. His attitude (“And they call him one of the best referees? That’s a joke. SMH (shaking my head))” cost him a fine of £10,000. More recently a fashion designer tweeted about the riots in Cairo that “rumour is they heard that our spring collection is now available online…” The tweet drew extensive criticism over the Net and he apologised.

Then the PCC ruled that tweets are public property. You could see this in The Times of Feb 9th if you are not prevented by their paywall. For those of you who are shut out of the paper, the PCC ruled that tweets published by a civil servant at the Department of Transport called Sarah Baskerville (or Baskers as she likes to be known) were public property despite the fact that Baskers posted a disclaimer that her tweets were not offered in an official capacity. She had twittered about government policies as spin and had complained about red wine induced headaches at work but had overlooked the fact that tweets can be searched and seen by anyone interested unless certain privacy measures are adopted. She argued for a reasonable expectation of privacy and that reporting of her tweets was misleading but the PCC decided that republication of the material by national newspapers did not amount to an invasion of her privacy despite that fact that they had originally been intended for a smaller audience.

Here we have yet another example of officialdom deciding that people posting material on social media sites forego their right to privacy in most cases. How long before we have an English court decision on the subject? At least now we will all know about it when it happens, or more probably as it happens via Twitter from the Supreme Court!

I tell you, John Wayne never had to put up with this. Nor did he have to deal with the worry that Red Indians had hacked into his email account or posted a dodgy picture of him and tagged it on Facebook. Today, he would never keep it under his hat!