We have undertaken a Harry Potter-like task recently at the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), but without the aid of wands or potions: we have tried to predict the future. It is always good to have an idea of what is coming down the line, but in this case we need to make difficult decisions about the impact of technology on lawyers’ lives.
Don’t be put off by the title of the report which contains the predictions made for us - Technological choices of CCBE in the electronic identification (eID) of EU lawyers - nor even by the glossary of terms or complex contents list at the beginning, because within its covers you will find how the world is changing below your feet. It is a giddy experience. It was drawn up by Peter Homoki, a senior lawyer at CMS Cameron McKenna LLP in Budapest. I will focus only on two developments which will affect us all.
First, the most widespread personal computing device in the near future will be neither the desktop computer, nor the notebook or laptop, but rather a mobile device: a smartphone or tablet. We know that from our own experience. Of the several illustrations in the report is one showing smartphones leaping up in ownership so as to be in multiples of the other two kinds. This will have an impact on how people use computers, and security solutions involving the smartphone platform will therefore spread, including a likely decline in the use of smartcards.
The report goes on to say: 'This will be further accelerated if in the future governments also accept identification by social networks.' That is a frightening development, but one which seems to be spreading. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are getting into the identity business. At the moment, it is mainly to do with ensuring that celebrities are who they say they are, but registration on some websites now takes place through a click on the Facebook icon. The report adds: 'We can also expect that in the longer run, more and more e-government services will be provided directly to users of social networks, i.e. where governments give up on managing the identity themselves in certain domains and accept assertions of social networks through the authentication mechanisms of the social network. However, this heavily depends on the security mechanisms the social networks use, and these are at the moment not as robust as most secure e-government services require.'
Given the power of social networks, is it conceivable that one day you will identify yourself as a lawyer through Facebook? (If ever this happens, believe me that the bars will insist that only bar-certified data are used.)
Second, we are all deluged with smartcards, with different codes and for different purposes. I have 13 various cards in my wallet; others have more. This is like railways stopping at the national border and changing gauge. It is old-fashioned and inefficient. Re-use of security devices, using specific secure hardware for as many scenarios as possible, will become a top priority in the near future, meaning that a separate smartcard involving readers for different security uses is likely to dwindle.
How does this affect lawyers? Well, the strong blasts of future change concentrate the mind, particularly in focusing on what matters. The lesson the CCBE has drawn is that we should not get into the game of building our own technological solutions for eID, since we can in no way dictate to the market, but rather we should hold tight to our crown jewels - the data on who is a lawyer - and insist that, however technology changes, we remain in charge of verifying that identity. You will need to draw the conclusions for your own practice and circumstances. Harry Potter - where are you now that we need you so much?
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents about one million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs