Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 at 10:43:13 PM EST
And so it comes to pass. Some days the ironies of history hit with the force of a hammer. For the past decade or two the firmest advocate of globalisation has been Rupert Murdoch, his papers pushing the agenda of outsourcing may find that it is this which will provide the evidence to bring his organisation down.
How did we get to this situation? Well it turns out to be raising questions for any company that wants to sail close to the wind on the oceans of legality.
From various reports we find that News International (the UK newspaper and magazine arm of the worldwide Murdoch enterprise) had outsourced its IT provision. This was done in two stages, firstly a UK firm appears to have been providing day to day hardware and software support to News International's headquaters in Wapping, and secondly they have subcontracted their backup services to a large Indian data handling firm in Chenai. The Indian firm is denying any link with News International when written to by the Home Affairs Select Committee in the UK.
It appears that to save money, News International's office IT services were run from outside the company, and so all of the company email was held on servers that were not under the control of News International.
Midway through last year we have the following from the Guardian:
Phone hacking: Police probe suspected deletion of emails by NI executive | Media | The Guardian
According to legal sources close to the police inquiry, a senior executive is believed to have deleted "massive quantities" of the archive on two separate occasions, leaving only a fraction to be disclosed. One of the alleged deletions is said to have been made at the end of January, just as Scotland Yard was launching Operation Weeting, its new inquiry into the affair. The allegation directly contradicts NI claims that it is co-operating fully with police in order to expose its history of illegal newsgathering.
If News International had owned its own hardware, this would be a relatively simple action, but being outsourced the situation would not be quite as simple. As a group with a contract with News International, the hosting company will have a backup strategy, specified by contract. On a usual scheme you will have major backups once a week, of which you'll have a rotating stack of four or five, then once a month the current backup will be transferred to a more permanent storage, either an off-site backup or tape cartridges. on top of that you will also have a daily backup just of what was updated since the day before. The whole point being, if your building burns down, from those backup tapes and disks you can stitch back together the current state of your system, losing at most the last few hours since a days incremental backup has been performed. On the off chance that part of your backup stack may be virused, or you may find a backup set corrupted, it is usual industry practice to keep backup sets going back for six months to a year: you may lose a month at some point, but you can rebuild around that hole in the corporate memory. But everyone who is at all serious about their business will keep backups on top of backups.
Now as an outsourced IT company, you will be running a variety of customers' backups and operations off a selection of your equipment, and the only safe way of keeping this going is to have your own backup plans, but to save money you end up having several customers' backups running to one or two large-scale servers. These machines will have a selection of image files ready to be reinstalled to customers' equipment. These machines need backing up, and this backup is best run overnight when your own staff will be more expensive to employ. Fortunately,as UK newspapers are just shutting down for the night at around midnight, it's 5:30 in the morning in Chennai, where the Indian firm that apparently provides those backup services are based. So nice cheap labour, and they don't even want overtime for being up through the night.
So as things start to go wrong, through the wonders of outsourcing you now have all of your backup files, tapes and disks in the hands of other people. You can't accidentally put them in a metal cupboard where the secretaries can discharge the static from walking across the nylon carpet so they don't get a shock from the lift buttons which erases the tapes. They can't be erased by an overzealous cleaner who incinerates them to follow misguided data protection regulations. The only thing that you can do is delete your copies and send an executive (so far unnamed) to your UK supplier to get those files deleted.
As an IT supplier you are then sat in a difficult position: corporate governance laws say you have to retain that data, data protection laws say you have to delete it, but perhaps sitting in the back of your mind are the words "conspiracy to pervert the course of justice". If you have been watching the news at all, you have to guess that the evidence as to what happened is on those disks that you have. And the charge is one that can be very heavy. If you talk to your lawyer he's going to tell you that it's not just heavy it's very very heav:, if the forces of law wish to come down on you, you could be facing a charge of perverting the course of justice which potentially carries a life sentence, and also for doing this in agreement with others, you would be facing the charge of conspiracy to do the same, which also carries a life sentence. It would be an enormous risk to destroy those files, especially as going beyond that there are backups of your backups in India. And depending on the way they have been done, they very likely can't be deleted.
Now when the Indian backup service creates the backup, what they have is a file, very much like a zip archive, only very much bigger with the contents of every single file and its location from an entire server as its contents. Now as it's the backup of your backup server, it most likely has several of your customers' data inside, so while one customer may want that file gone, your other customers most definitely will not. And it's not like you can just go inside this file and delete parts of it. Backup files are packed with checksum digits, used in measuring the size of the files, part of the process of verifying that the data is all present and correct. You delete files from inside and these checksums will no longer add up, and then the backup will no longer work because the markers used in verifying that the backup is correct no longer matches its contents.
Now we know from other reports that a senior Murdoch executive then flew out to India, and apparently was told that they couldn't have the selection of files that they wanted deleting deleted. Whether this was from purely technical reasons as laid out above, or if it was from contractual and corporate governance reasons is something it is difficult to ascertain from the evidence that is publicly available. From one report it is claimed that the Indian backup firm has no corporate relationship with News International, and so not being their customer, the NI exec was politely shown the door.
Once it was known that these full backups existed Rupert ordered an independent investigation committee to search through the available data (several million emails) and assist the police. It's thought that this happened as it was the only alternative to having the police shutting down the papers and magazines while they did a fine tooth comb search of the servers themselves.
Now nobody expected these people to be either independent, or to actually do any investigating, so it was a bit of a shock when last weekend, with no warning to the Murdochs, the police turned up on the doors of four members of staff from the Sun - a paper that had previously claimed to be untainted by the current scandal - and a serving police officer. This was done on the strength of information recieved from this committee, which is causing great deals of panic and paranoia amongst staff and ex-staff of the paper. Police have also announced that there is at least one more arrest to come of a journalist who was out of the country.
Here's a Nick Davis article on the situation that deserves reading:
Mysteries of Data Pool 3 give Rupert Murdoch a whole new headache | Media | The Guardian
On Saturday morning, the police arrested four journalists who have worked for Rupert Murdoch. For a while, it looked as though these were yet more arrests of people related to the News of the World but then it became clear that this was something much more significant.
This may be the moment when the scandal that closed the NoW finally started to pose a potential threat to at least one of Murdoch's three other UK newspaper titles: the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.
The four men arrested on Saturday are not linked to the NoW. They come from the Sun, from the top of the tree - the current head of news and his crime editor, the former managing editor and deputy editor.
All in all a further step in the car crash.