Closing comment – Are we cuckoo to count on confidentiality?


Allow us to contemplate aloud, like Carrie Bradshaw, the question: In this era of supersized-surveillance and anti-secrecy, among a generation extremely comfortable with openness and honesty, is nothing sacred anymore? Are we crazy to think we can keep anything confidential?

We’re not talking about baby names here, people. Consider the following three cases.

The first should be a warning, while the second and third are ones to watch because when the stakes are this high the bounties are no doubt even higher – which is the whole point.

Whether the secret is identity, location, or the recipe for enriching uranium, the common thread – confidentiality – is the c-word which caught our attention this week because the news media was punctuated with salacious stories of The One That Got Caught, The One That Got Away, and The One That Can’t Get Out Or God-Help-Us-All.

Case 1: Confidentiality gone cuckoo

“The Age” yesterday revealed author JK Rowling had accepted a substantial donation to charity from a law firm which breached her confidentiality by revealing she was writing under a pseudonym. The paper said Harry Potter’s creator brought proceedings in London’s High Court against Chris Gossage, a partner at Russells and a friend of his, Judith Callegari. Rowling’s solicitor, Jenny Afia, told the court Rowling was revealed in the Sunday Times as the writer of crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, which was published under the name of Robert Galbraith. If you can’t even trust your own lawyer to keep mum, who can you trust?

Case 2: A year – if that – of hiding dangerously in Russia

“The Australian” reports today that, in a cloak-and-dagger operation overseen by his Russian lawyer but unnoticed by the hordes of media trying to follow his every move, fugitive Wikileaker Edward Snowden has slipped out of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after Russia granted him a year’s asylum. The White House is apparently “extremely disappointed”. How long do you think the infamous leaker – the most pursued man on the planet – will manage to keep his Russian hideaway location secret from the USA?

Case 3 – 20,000 reasons to fear the failure of classifying information

Last night ABC’s “7.30” told us that an Australian nuclear physicist has developed a new enrichment process and been granted approval by US regulators to develop it commercially, despite fears that if the technology gets into the wrong hands it could promote the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Sceptics point to history and the failure of tight security surrounding the US atomic bomb in World War II, which has lead to 20,000 nuclear weapons now spread globally. There’s no doubt that keeping classified information secret for prolonged periods of time is extremely difficult. The question is will industrial espionage or State-centred espionage make a mockery of attempts at confidentiality, and at what cost to the planet?

Hilary Clinton is quoted as saying “We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it.”

Are we? I guess that’s something we can all contemplate from the privacy of our own homes and smartphones this weekend…


Jack & the c word crew

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