18 July 2011

Cyberspace August 2011

Managing foreign evidence

There are war crimes trials all over the world at present, and the United Nations teams that support them have a difficult job support them in multi-language proceedings. IDC recently wrote a paper (http://www.idc.com) on how the UN supports millions of documents in many formats and many languages. A litigation support system must meeting the UN’s rules as well as other standards such as the local law, rules, and regulations.

Trials of Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic set the scene for processes to support these complex and very lengthy trials, with legal teams from many countries. Not only was the evidence in several languages, but it also had to be free-text searchable and made available in other languages. The Yugoslavian trials have used over 13 languages.

What’s so hard? Free-text in multiple languages is challenging, because the system needs to understand that words spelled the same may mean very different things, and word-stems that you think might work just won’t. A library in French is a bibliotheque, whereas a librairie is a bookshop. Caution in French can mean bail; and chair in French means flesh. During war crimes trials these things can cause grave confusion. But these are basic problems - when you have millions of documents from many sources it is important for a system to understand if the word is being used as a noun or verb, and to know that Mr Black is not a colour. We haven’t even considered the difficulties arising from Eastern European character sets such as Cyrillic.

There are other issues - quite often the evidence in such trials is from the media - newspaper reports and television footage. This material must be carefully managed, made available to legal representatives, and a chain of custody ensured so that there can be no allegations of tampering.

The Yugoslavian trials used products by ZyLAB, who have a small presence in Australia but are not well known in the litigation support space. The IDC paper reported that the same free text search results could be achieved querying in multiple languages, and the various types of professionals working on matters had customised workspaces. The paper doesn’t cover this, but I imagine in such cases there will be prosecution and defence lawyers, military, law enforcement, anthropologists and others who all need varying levels of access to this information.


Do you like using your smart phone or iPad on the bus? Of course you are careful to hide the keyboard when entering a username or password,  but that may not be enough. According to The Unofficial Apple Weblog a jailbreak app for iOS allows your seat-mate to aim the camera at your device and look for the slight blue glow on the virtual keyboard after typing. It can then reassemble the username and password.

The Cloud...

Dropbox is a popular application that will synchronise the contents of folders between many computers, mobile phones and tablets. It’s tempting to use it as the filing system for a small firm where the principal is on the move and needs documents.
However, Dropbox recently accidentally turned off its password authentication system for four hours, and it has also been disclosed that your documents are not fully encrypted on their servers. In other words, they can provide your documents to others under subpoena. So much for that part of the cloud.

On the topic of the cloud, an iPad app idocument REVIEW (http://goo.gl/wK2rm) offers you the chance to review discovery on your iPad from the cloud while biding your time in the registrar’s list. I’ve not used it, but it seems that you upload your documents to the vendor, who processes them  and you then sync them to your iPad. You then review the docs on the iPad, and upload a datafile back to the vendor when you’re done. It might even be therapeutic.