Secret E-Diary

How smart is a smartphone?


"Technology is cool, but you’ve got to use it as opposed to letting it use you."

October 9, 2019: Prince.

Chambers has a frightening new force: our General Data Protection Regulation Officer. This came to light recently over a phone. Jane Nettleton has a growing practice in family law and when she popped into my room yesterday, I assumed it was for a minor Chambers matter. I knew she was not proposing to leave Chambers – the departers invariably want to see you away from the coalface. No, she had lost her phone.

I could have done without the interruption. I have two pieces of work that are badly overdue: first is the chapter of a text book that unwisely I agreed to author and, second, a self-imposed task of writing my nascent autobiography tentatively entitled All Rise! which is still looking for a publisher. Paddy Corkhill’s observation that it sounded like a top-shelf publication in a newsagents had not been one of the more helpful contributions.

To be fair to Jane, she came to my room at midday. I had been in it since 8.30am and done nothing of note. First, I had to deal with my emails: some from friends, several scam ones and a number from solicitors wanting instant advice. One, sent at breakfast time, had been followed by another saying ‘Did you get my email?’ Yes, I had received the email. I just wanted a little time to think about it.

There were also several outstanding payment requests from utility companies. I did not remember receiving the original bills. Everything seemed to be crowding in so I looked on Facebook. My friends who had sensibly retired early were posting their trips and, naturally, I had to ‘like’ the post or ‘comment’, which then caused others to comment, to whom I felt I needed to reply also. Returning to the emails, there were a chain of messages caused by my thanking someone for a recent dinner. That had obligated her to send me a ‘don’t mention it’ mail, including news of her daughter’s first term at university to which I responded cheerfully and so on ad infinitum.

Then, without warning, a message appeared on my phone screen telling me that I was about to be demoted in my online Snooker game ‘Pot Red’. I quickly played a game. Sadly, I lost. This meant I had to play another and another. I am sure there is an algorithm, or whatever they call it, that selects much tougher online opponents just when I need the points.

So, by midday, I had done none of my assigned tasks and was exhausted. Why was Jane coming to the Head of Chambers about losing a phone? I noticed she was fighting back the tears. I have heard how loss of a smartphone can feel similar to the death of a loved one so I tried to be sympathetic. Then, amidst her sniffles and broken sentences, I suddenly got the point.

‘Think, William. Everything is on it. Access to the Cloud…’ I looked out of my window and saw a fluffy little one passing overhead. ‘Cloud storage,’ she said with emphasis. Emails, advices, things about people, you know…’ I felt a surge of adrenalin and picked up the phone to call Andrew, our senior clerk. I passed on the grim news. Then there was a click and I found myself speaking to Francis Pittkethly, a senior junior with whom I have not had much dealings. ‘Francis,’ I said, ‘I’ve been put through to you by mistake.’ ‘No mistake, William. I am Chambers’ GDPR Officer. I was patched in to your call with Andrew. This is very serious. Nettleton and Chambers could be fined thousands of pounds. Ask Jane if she has wiped her phone.’

I did. She did not think she could as it was switched off. ‘There is a way,’ said Francis. ‘Tell her to stay there!’ Within seconds he had appeared and whisked her off somewhere. I sat back in my chair and eyed the little black object to the left on my desk. The thing that never left me alone, that occupied so much of my time and stopped me from having the space to think. What if I’d left my phone on the tube this morning? What did I have in the Cloud? Would everyone know how much virtual snooker I was playing? Things came to mind that made me shudder. At that moment there was a ping. It was an email to Chambers from Pittkethly. On the subject line it read: GDPR TRAINING, BE THERE! Normally I would have been anywhere but there. Perhaps, however, the time had come… 

William Byfield*, Gutteridge Chambers

* William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.

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