The Chatham House Rule, Privacy and Cypherpunk Values

Bruce Fenton

Privacy and Control of one’s own communications is basic and important

The Chatham House Rule was invented by old timey diplomats and reads.

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

When I sum it up at meetings I host I usually say “Post what you want in your words, by all means discuss the topics. Say what you want. But please, before recording someone or taking their photo or sharing their words, ask that person’s permission.”

That’s it.

Anyone who understands this rule and its implementation would know it’s absurd to claim its anti-privacy…its a much better privacy policy than most events.

Privacy is a cornerstone of the entire cypherpunk movement and the great ideas that created this tech.

Privacy works.

It also helps the conversation quality improve.

Not everything should be public. No one has the right to the conversations of others.

As a financial advisor for many years customer privacy for our firm has always been as close to Swiss bank level or better as possible. Unless a customer allowed me to disclose their name, I would not ever do so. I’d take great pains to keep that private. If I ran into them in a store I wouldn’t even say how I knew them in front of a stranger. When discussing customer matters in public my staff has a set of codes we use so we know what customer we are talking about but any potential eavesdropper would not. We have secrecy procedures around our data locations and lots of other factors.

In my career Carolann and I have hosted hundreds of meetings for clients and customers and others. It’s our thing. We love it. We like people. I like ideas and my greatest strength is big picture thinking. I absorb info like a sponge and the more people I can learn from the better.

After a lifetime of hosting dinners and meetings we are still learning — we’ve found lots of things that work better than others.

Privacy works. When people think a meeting is public they play for the press or the public or Twitter, when it’s private they are more likely to open their ears and learn from each other.

Privacy isn’t nefarious or bad or suspect.

The statement “if you have nothing to hide you should livestream” is tyranny.

No one owes you the contents of their email or communications.

Here are several examples of statements which, at least some, should be obvious why they are legitimate statements but the speaker might choose to have privacy.

(If we don’t respect that privacy upfront they will never speak to begin with)

“I intend to challenge the regulators in my country on ____ here is how I think I can win.”

“I’m concerned that my country is becoming more authoritarian, how can we still do transactions if they attempt to stop them by X means?”

“I feel like XYZ might be a scam but I don’t have proof, what do you think?”

“My large company is really excited about Bitcoin but we don’t want to announce anything until we learn more”

“My employers position is X, as chief engineer I support the company but internally we’ve had a debate about it, here is my opinion”

“My venture backer is pressuring us to do X, but we disagree, what is your advice?”

“I’m really scared of my own government, what privacy steps can I take?”

“I’m a CTO, I’ve learned some best practices for security that I can share with CTOs of other exchanges, here they are…”

“We are about to get a Banking license in XYZ country but the regulators have asked us to not mention it publicly until after its finalized”

“Our startup is hurting but has some great tech, we don’t want to make layoffs, do you think it’s viable to do a JV?”

These conversations are not so different from:

“Here is a zero day security hole I found in your system, I’m privately sharing it with your security and dev team before it’s exploited.”

It doesn’t need to be justified or explained. If someone wants to go to a meeting where ‘off the record unless I say so’ is the default that’s a strength.

We should all encourage as much privacy in communications as possible.