Of another time

The story of the missing files shows government processes haven't stepped up to the information age.

The information age is at least two decades old but it is still news to many governments. The political effects of this cognitive failure are proving to be intense. In India's Parliament, the opposition is feeding live coals of fire to the government for conveniently losing 200 files pertaining to the coal scam. India is a leader in e-governance but clearly, government files are not backed up. Meanwhile, in London, The Guardian's were visited by government "security experts" who oversaw the physical destruction of hard disks containing data leaked by Edward Snowden. Apparently, these "experts" have not heard of backups either. In addition, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald's partner was detained while passing through Heathrow in a P.C. Goon-style attempt to shake him down for some more stolen data.

One of the defining characteristics of data is that it is infinitely and exactly replicable, so it can be safely assumed that the Snowden files exist on dozens of computers and storage devices. Smashing or confiscating two or three would make no difference. So the government attention that The Guardian attracted can be read either as stupidity or as intimidation of the media. Britons want to know if their politicians were involved. Across the Atlantic, rights groups are asking if US officials were involved.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, the government faces another accountability test. The contents of the lost files probably cannot be fully reconstructed from communications between various arms of government, and even if their disappearance is an act of omission or an act of God, it shows the government in a poor light. Irrespective of what governments believe, this is the information age in which everything has, or should have, a backup.

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