By | 12th July 2013

The TV series Mission:Impossible began with the team receiving a tape starting with the words: “Your mission,…. should you decide to accept it…”, followed by a brief description of the problem to be solved.

Famously, the sequence ended with the words “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck……”  and then smoke would rise from the tape, and the instructions would be destroyed.

The longevity of the series was boosted by the film franchise starring Tom Cruise.

While the US built a stealth bomber some years ago, the world had to wait for Harry Potter before we progressed to the invisibility cloak. Now J K Rowling’s imagination has become reality, judging by an item on Radio 4’s Today programme on July 2nd and carried in The DailyTelegraph which reported on the award by the Institute of Physics of the Isaac Newton medal to Professor Sir John Pendry for his work on “making things invisible” (my italics).

In the world of e-discovery, I have learned that nothing should surprise me. In fact, I am often delighted by what I find, so I was intrigued to see an item in Information Week entitled “This Email will self-destruct: A T & T seek patent.”

The article postulates that emails might in future be remotely deleted at a fixed time and safeguarded against copying in order to prevent the leak of company secrets or other confidential information contained. The proposal is part of a patent application filed by AT&T  proposing a “method, system and apparatus for providing self-destructing electronic mail messages.”

What sounds eminently sensible on the ground that, presently, emails are a method of communication over which the sender has no control once sent, may pose a dilemma for ediscovery lawyers and litigators and their clients in general. The idea that emails can be designed to ensure that they self-destruct at a given time may indeed be an idea whose time has come, but lawyers will want to know what has been destroyed and when and what is likely to be destroyed in the future if they are to comply with disclosure obligations to their clients and the court.

This may well defeat the object of the exercise.

It will be interesting to see how this develops and how the courts and lawyers deal with the issue. Ultimately, those whose responsibility it is so to frame the rules to cope with the ever changing world of technology will have to design a framework to cope with this particular Mission: Impossible.