Yesterday's revelation that government emails are automatically deleted after three months highlights one of the obstacles to freedom of information (FOI).
By the time a request for information is made, much of it may have disappeared, leaving a blank space in the official record.
"We do not hold the information you have asked for," the requester is told.
If a minister or civil servant deliberately destroys information after a request to prevent disclosure, they commit an offence.
However, if the destruction occurs before the request is made, they are in the clear.
This is not unique to Northern Ireland - some Whitehall departments have been doing it for years. It is said to be good record-keeping. Officials are meant to select significant information for preservation, leaving internal emails about car parking and room bookings for the automated chop.
But what other, more revealing material gets destroyed at the same time?
The Cabinet Office introduced this policy just two weeks before the January 2005 start of FOI. Coincidence? Not likely.
In numerous training events officials were urged to adopt policies saying how long different records should be kept and when they would be destroyed.
This was supposed to de-clutter the files, to help answer requests, but the bonus, they were told, would be "if you don't hold it, you won't have to disclose it".
The message - get rid of embarrassing stuff early - was unmistakeable.
Private email accounts are another problem. If a message deals with government business, it is subject to FOI, even if on a minister's personal email account, but who will force a minister to search their account for these emails?
Encrypted chat systems that delete messages after they are read are another obstacle.
Technology could enhance accountability by automatically recognising and retaining key documents. Instead it is being used to undermine it.
Maurice Frankel is director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information www.cfoi.org.uk