Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Interrogating the CIA

Yesterday afternoon I joined a small group of men in grey suits in a nondescript building in central London to meet with and ask searching questions of the CIA. No, no, no! Not THAT CIA, you silly billy. I mean Kim Cameron, the jovial, highly respected Chief Identity Architect of Microsoft Corp. What a great job title. Or is it Chief Architect of Identity?

Kim spoke at this excellent meeting organised by the Enterprise Privacy Group. It was a very informative meeting and I'd like to be able to report on it fully but it was held under Chatham House Rules, or to be more accurate The Chatham House Rule (there is only one rule). The Chatham House Rule is, I believe, a uniquely British institution. It works something like this.

At the beginning of a meeting, the organiser says "this meeting will be held under the Chatham House Rule". Everyone nods, including me, even though half the room has no idea what he means but it sounds impressive and gives you the feeling that you are on the "inside" of something that is about to get really interesting. If the organiser knows what he is doing he will say "for those of you who don't know what it means..." (at this point we all smile in a superior fashion at each other, not letting on that we don't know...) "it means that you CAN report what has been said at this meeting but you CANNOT attribute it to any individual speaker". Ahhhh, that's what it means.

This is quite interesting really. A lot of people think that a meeting held under the Chatham House Rule (remember - there is only one rule) cannot be reported on at all. That it's completely "off the record" (by the way, don't fall for that one either if the journalist says that to you). Not quite the case. However it is odd to try to report on a meeting when you can't say who said what.

For example, I can say that someone drew a quite entertaining analogy between what we need from an national identity card and that blank piece of "psychic paper" that Doctor Who holds up to get in to places around the universe, but I can't tell you who. I can tell you that there was quite a heated exchange between two gents in a way that you don't often get at our Very British meetings which had me wanting to jump up, form a circle round them and start chanting "fight, fight, fight" (ahhh, school days, eh) but I can' t tell you who.

Mind you, I've attended quite a few meetings under the Chatham House Rule and I have never, ever seen or heard of the Rule being broken. We just accept it. It's self regulation at its best. I think we enjoy the fact that this completely voluntary rule is such a wonderfully British invention. After all if a chap can't rely on another chap to stick to the Chatham House Rule, where would a chap be?

So, I can't say much about the meeting except that it was quite thought provoking. And that the CIA in question was not the one you first thought. The nearest I've got to the real men in dark glasses is the time when the guys from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, popped up out of nowhere for a chat, wondering whether Garlik was looking for any extra funding. Gulp! But that's material for another day...

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