You are a busy criminal lawyer, representing defendants. On your desktop computer you list and index all your clients, including the allegations against them, any criminal record, arguments in their defence, keyed in verbatim in your office, their details, the agreed fee they are to pay you, the name of the assigned judge, prosecutor and the court room.

Clearly it will be a hectic Monday morning in Romes ugly, concrete courthouse at Piazzale Clodio near the Olympic Stadium since you have to put in four other defence pleas that day. You cringe at the thought of your workload during the week.

The one consolation is that your computer has neatly memorised it all, though it is an ancient model with fading letters on the keyboard. You know you will soon have to upgrade it. Then, your strangely clumsy office cleaner lets the long black handle of the vacuum cleaner crash into your monitor, and you return to find it in smithereens on the floor. She wails, distraught, but the only remedy seems to be a new machine at once.

You vaguely remember someone recommending Computer Discount, the biggest computer retail network in Italy, with more than 210 branches in the country, 11 listed in the Rome phone book, plus one in Ostia. You go to the nearest, where they urge you as a preliminary to take in bulbous Mr Ancient so that the precious data in him can be transplanted into the viscera of Mr Slim, your sleek, new purchase.

The shops technician swiftly turns up at your flat to install it. You then ask: And where are all my data?

A major catastrophe explodes. The technician clamps his palm to his forehead, looks at you terrified, and shouts: Oh God! What did I do with them?

Incredibly they have vanished without trace, and you see yourself in Piazzale Clodio next week desperately searching around for clients whose very names, let alone faces, have left your head. You ring your secretary who reassures you: she has saved all your closed cases on floppy disks. Yes, but all the pending ones? Your contact list for colleagues and friends? The email addresses? Ah! All gone! You ring friends. Its crazy! How could it possibly happen? they exclaim. Sue them at once! Youre a lawyer: you should be able to make them sing to the tune of thousands of euro!

It also strikes you as the perfect type of incident to be exposed on Mi Manda Rai Tre, the popular consumer programme on state television that goes out every Wednesday to feature the many Italians across the country who are paying for products and services that do not work, never arrive or may not even exist.

So you return to the technician. Look, theres an issue of privacy here. Ive already given the old computer away. Are you sure theres none of my stuff left on it?

Dont worry. Its now back in its virginal state.

To check on the legal position, however, you first consult the head of the oldest Computer Discount outlet in the city. In his large shop, he relates how he set up in the late 1980s when only eight discount places existed in Rome. The real computer rush occurred between 1995 and 1999, he explains, but now the demand is slowing because of the recession. Even so, the owner of the shop continues, the 15-year-old big parent franchising company, known baldly as CDC, is still making a healthy annual profit of around e30-40 million.

Then you expound your problem. Surprise! Your friends and you had got it wrong and your chances of getting on Rai Tre have shrunk to a minimum. The owner wrestles to extract a thick wad of certificates from a drawer under the counter. He explains that he insists every single client sign one. He hands over a copy: The client hereby recognises that any work on the computer can entail the partial or total loss of all the data stored In whatever circumstance, the client is solely and exclusively responsible for such data

Im afraid it was your fault, he says and suggests that as a double-check you phone Leonardo Ristori, external relations manager at CDCs head office outside Pisa.

Yes, Ristori answers. In short, youre to blame. You know, these days we expect our clients to behave like prudent mothers and save everything carefully. Switching data is really childs play but if, strangely, something does go wrong, well of course see what we can do, though in the end theres nothing the clients can complain about because of the certificate theyve signed.

But I didnt sign one, you object. In a court, I think the general conditions (note: namely that the client is solely and exclusively responsible for the data) would still apply because theyre publicly registered, therefore valid in whatever case, replied Ristori.

Then a coup de theatre: a phone call from the new owner of your old computer discloses that it still houses all your data and that he has read the lot.