What price privilege?

Filed Under: Data loss, Law & order, Privacy

The Brisbane Times reports a worrying exchange of words in the Industrial Relations Commission – a senior barrister admitting that his laptop, containing three years' worth of work, was recently stolen.

Amusingly, the BT further quotes the sinned-against silk as saying that the thief "may or may not have a record of violence", just the sort of resoundingly redundant remark to delight a mathematician or a computer scientist with its binary logical completeness, but to make the rest of us say, quietly, of course, for fear of causing offence, something like, "Lawyers, eh?"

Brissie Times stablemate The Sydney Morning Herald followed up that the aforementioned barrister has offered a reward for the laptop's return (a free day's court appearance in a court of the miscreant's choice, which shows a nice touch of humour). As he explains, "the content has no value to anyone but myself."

It certainly sounds as though he has no backup. Oops.

But let's hope the laptop was encrypted, if indeed it contained work information.

Those who use the services of lawyers in Australia enjoy client legal privilege – a right to resist disclosing information that would otherwise be required to be disclosed. The effectiveness of this privilege, of course, depends in part upon the lawyer to whom the privileged information is revealed.

In the modern era, this "privacy dependency" can be considered to extend to the computer equipment which that lawyer uses in recording, researching and progressing the matter at hand. And the same goes for anyone with whom you do business and who is required, either by law, or by sound business practice, or by simple human decency, to look after the information you share with them in good faith.

So why not ask what steps your lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, loan advisor, taxation consultant, football club, marketing company, accountant and gym trainer are taking to look after personal information which you share with them?

Wouldn't you prefer to deal with someone who can show, rather than simply say, that they care about your data?

(Yes, I would say that, but I'd say it anyway, not just because Sophos sells a whole range of terribly cool data protection products.)

Sculpture by: John Massey Rhind, photo: Einar Einarsson Kvaran, licence: CC-BY-SA.

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog