Help! My documents are leaking!

The world has been gripped by one of the sexiest documentation events in history: the release of thousands of sensitive (and very embarrassing) diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. If there was ever any doubt about the absolute power of information, it can be laid to rest now.

The “documentation manager” of this mess, Julian Assange, is now under arrest, not for leaking classified information, but for sex crimes. This is because sex crimes are sexier than informational crimes.

This event has graphically highlighted the two types of information that we deal with: internal and external. Any information developer who gets these mixed up will run into a world of pain. The problem is that because most information is stored in a “soft” format (on the computer or the web), it is easier than ever for private information to morph into public.

A fool learns from their own mistakes; a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. Let’s learn from this and remember: any private information that you create can easily become public information. Thousands of examples of this happen every day including:

  • damaging emails accidentally sent to the wrong people, or deliberately forwarded to those people, or worst of all, made public (think Climategate)
  • error messages that were not properly reviewed and contain internal comments such as: tell the user not to be so dumb
  • any internal document leaked to the public

Therefore, any information you create or manage should include the following warning:

DANGER!
CONTENTS MAY EXPLODE OR LEAK.
HANDLE WITH EXTREME CAUTION!
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