Opinion: Malcolm Turnbull's email fiasco

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This article appeared in the June, 2009 issue of CRN magazine.

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Opinion: Malcolm Turnbull's email fiasco

Events in Canberra reveal a mystifying lack of understanding about modern communications. 

Apparently the maxim that "what happens on the internet stays on the internet" hasn't quite soaked through to some people. My evidence for this is based upon recent media reports concerning a faked email that caused something of a ruckus in the Australian Federal Parliament.

It started with a public servant claiming that he sort of kind of recalled having seen an email that may or may not have been from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and, if it did exist and he remembered it right, might have in some way implicated the Prime Minister in some kind of wrongdoing.

Naturally the Opposition Leader was on TV within minutes demanding that the Prime Minister resign immediately.

Re-read that paragraph above, because it's a pretty accurate assessment of Godwin Grech's testimony before the Senate Estimates Committee. If you got sacked on the basis of that you'd reckon it was pretty unfair, eh? Apparently the Opposition Leader doesn't.

Of course the rest of us were pretty keen to see this email and evaluate its contents for ourselves. This is where it gets weird.

You see, when you send an email, it doesn't just exist in your "Sent" folder and the recipient's "Inbox". Traces of it are left on all the myriad servers it passes through on the way from one to the other.

Just as the Chinese sporting authorities were unable to completely eradicate records that some of their Olympic athletes were under age, just as anyone who has ever stupidly sent an email to their wife instead of their girlfriend can never take it back, just as anyone who's ever got drunk then taken naked pictures of themselves with their mobile phone and posted them to MySpace finds themselves an overnight celebrity, the bumblers responsible for the faked PMO email had no hope of covering their tracks.

A copy of the email was found on Grech's home computer and in short order assessed as a fake. Why anyone thought there would be a different result is just gobsmacking.

Then it got weirder. Because then the Opposition took the heat off the PM and focused its attention on the Treasurer. It turned out that emails pertaining to the same business that the fake email was purported to concern had been faxed to his home.

You read that right. Faxed. They were sent at the speed of light from one computer to another, whereupon they were printed out onto paper and sent chugging over the phone lines to be printed on another piece of paper using technology developed in the middle of last century.

Why did that happen? Why did Wayne Swan not receive these emails by, I don't know, maybe email? It's a mystery, and it's one I would very much like the government to clear up for me.

I expect the answer will arrive by carrier pigeon any day now.

Matthew JC. Powell isn't going to buy an iPhone 3GS in the first week it's out. So there. Who's with me on mjcp@me.com

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