Home > General Rants & Raves > On the Chatham House Rule

On the Chatham House Rule

James Gardner reminded me of something that I wanted to bring up but had forgotten about for some time.  Yes, he’s Australian, but he can’t help that.

You’d understand why that was funny if you knew that I grew up in New Zealand.  Or perhaps not.

Let me first begin by suggesting that we owe many things to the empire of Great Britain. 

There’s the Queen, crumpets, French jokes, that wonderful derivative affectation that causes all the women to swoon, the incessant need for either a cuppa tea or litres of beer, and some interesting cultural and business customs.

One of those customs is that of the Chatham House Rule

If you’ve ever been to the UK and attended a business meeting discussing sensitive subject matter, there’s a good chance that someone pronounced that all those participating are cloaked under the Chatham House Rule.

If, as a gracious guest, you were not (at least by modern standards) subject to Her Majesty’s sovereign rule, you may have simply smiled and nodded politely not knowing who, what, or where this oddly-named domicile was and what it may have had to do with your meeting.

The same could be said for that guy Robert and all his suggestions, I suppose.

At any rate, for all of you who have wondered just what in Tony Blair’s closet you just agreed to when you attended one of these meeting governed by this odd architectural framework defined in the spirit of Chatham, you may now wonder no longer.

The Chatham House Rule reads as follows:

"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".

The world-famous Chatham House Rule may be invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information.


The Chatham House Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of
providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the
sharing of information. It is now used throughout the world as an aid
to free discussion. Meetings do not have to take place at Chatham House
to be held under the Rule.

Meetings, events and discussions held at Chatham House are normally
conducted ‘on the record’ with the Rule occasionally invoked at the
speaker’s request. In cases where the Rule is not considered
sufficiently strict, an event may be held ‘off the record’.

If you’re interested in what the Chatham House is, besides the link to the rule (above) you can check out the following link to learn about the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Three things will likely come of this post:

  1. You can confidently acknowledge your understanding of The Rule and use it in the spirit under which it was constructed
  2. You’ve now realized that all that stuff you blabbed about from
    those prior meetings under The Rule (which you didn’t understand) is someday going to come back and punt
    you right in the blender
  3. You can now start evoking the Chatham House rule in random places regarding all manner of activities and confuse the hell out of people.  I quite like declaring it before ordering Chili Poppers and girlie drinks at TGI Friday’s, for example.

You can probably guess why I’m writing this.

Some people just never learn.

My work here is done.

Carry on.


Categories: General Rants & Raves Tags:
  1. February 10th, 2008 at 04:36 | #1

    Columbus Ohio has a Security MBA group (in this case, MBA stands for Masters of Beer Appreciation) of security professionals that meets once a month and operates under Chatham House rules.
    The amount of beverages consumed might help people forget who said what, but it has been awfully successful.

  2. February 10th, 2008 at 11:29 | #2

    Dear Christofer,
    I had previously not been aware that you’d been raised in NZ. For most people, that revelation would have been sufficient to invoke the Chatham House Rule all by itself. πŸ™‚
    James Gardner.

  3. February 10th, 2008 at 13:15 | #3

    Buahahaha! He shoots, he scores! Nicely done, sir.
    I’ll give you the chance to redeem yourself later this month. πŸ˜‰

  4. February 11th, 2008 at 05:17 | #4

    Hi Hoff
    We use the Chatham House Rule when I teach because it's all too easy to connect "My name is Mike and I work for the Generic Government Agency" with "We're having a problem trying to get our agency director to understand what we do". It all hits home at some point.
    A corollary to the Chatham House Rule is that you don't invite the press because they have an obligation to report what they hear, just like security dweebs have an obligation to report anything that they think is insecure.
    I'll spare you all the NZ sheep jokes for the time being. =)

  5. February 11th, 2008 at 10:09 | #5

    Hrm, too bad the US doesn't have to abide by that, except under politeness I guess, right?
    I'm a firm believer (and whiner) about the lack of info sharing amongst the sec folks. We absolutely need to talk about incidents, what worked, what didn't, what postures work, what don't, and so on, without all the ridiculous worrying about market brand, reputation, and so on. Life's too short…

  1. No trackbacks yet.