Monday, June 13, 2011

Poor analogies

With the furore over Labour's leak, the usual poor analogies are going round. "Taking something from an unlocked home". "Taking a wallet from inside an unlocked car". Quite apart from the failure to grasp the nonexclusive nature of digital information - copying doesn't deprive the owner of possession - they're also completely inapplicable to this case, because what seems to have happened is that Labour left stuff lying around in a public directory on a public server for anyone to read. This isn't "taking something from an unlocked home"; its Labour standing around on a street corner handing out money to anyone who walks up and asks. And then changing their mind and demanding it back.

Which is why allegations of criminality here are utterly ridiculous. Publication on the web is prima facie intentional. Sure, it happens by accident, but the idea that something can become retrospectively criminal because someone else has changed their mind flies in the face of our entire legal tradition. Meanwhile, if something is up and public, then you have a hell of a time proving that it was accessed with criminal intent, rather than in good faith (and knowing that other people are being stupid is not a sign of criminal intent).

Labour made a stupid, careless mistake. They now get to live with the consequences. Including a reputation that they are a bunch of muppets who are careless with other people's privacy.