Tuesday, August 16, 2005

If you can't 'google' yet, better learn fast

InternetCases.com discussed this case in the US, which held that the reasonable person would use Google when trying to find someone in order to serve notice on them.

It seems that a person was required to serve notice upon another. They attempted to serve the person by sending notice to two addresses, both of which turned out to be 'former'. The judge held that the reasonable person, where serving notice, would use Google to locate the person, or at least somebody close to the person, or their workplace, or whatever.

A little while ago I was trying to find a friend in New Zealand, whose email address I didn't have. I typed his name into Google and there he was, second or third link from the top; his name was listed on his law firm's webpage. It is NOT hard to find people directly, let alone something about them which would assist your investigation further. I think it is a positive step to make people be proactive when serving notice, however, incorporating a standard like 'you must use Google' is a pretty dangerous precedent.

What would happen, for example, if Google goes bust in the next five years? Would the reasonable person search MSN as well? Yahoo!? Holding that a person trying to find someone must use a particular finding service is a bit rough, in my mind. I won't even go into the economic stuff, the anti-competitive encouragement of a particular company's services over another's.

More importantly than that is the imposition of a particular technological skill in the legal profession. Now, I know it isn't hard to use Google. I know it isn't hard to learn. However, this is from the perspective of someone who has grown up using the technology and is familiar with it. There are plenty of people I know in the legal profession who aren't great with computers, let alone investigative methods via search engines. Indeed, encourage the use of technology somehow, but you can't force people to learn something like that. What about law firms who aren't even connected to the internet? Sounds funny to us, but I can tell you there are plenty who are not.

You might think I am being a stuffy old 'we should all still be using typewriters' kind of person. I'm really not. However, this reminds me of the current debate about e-Filing, in which some States in the US have made it compulsory to file court documents online. Great idea, online filing. But compulsory? A bit harder to justify. Maybe the fee could be halved for online filing to encourage its use, but making it compulsory is, in my mind, discriminatory.

There is no cost incentive to be generated in the case of search engines, though. There must be some middle ground, where the use of valid search methods is encouraged, without imposing the burden on those who genuinely cannot satisfy such an obligation. I can't use an i-Pod. What if it were compulsory to podcast oral argument in trials? Sounds stupid, but it isn't exactly inconceivable! Should I therefore be forced to use an i-Pod? Or is there some other incentive which can be provided so technophobes are willing to take up the challenges of 'googling'?!


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