Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 23/04/2004When you're working at the cutting edge of antiterrorist technology, discretion is required. This sits awkwardly with the natural desire of high-tech companies to tell the world how clever they are, an important part of drumming up new business.

Friday 23/04/2004
When you're working at the cutting edge of antiterrorist technology, discretion is required. This sits awkwardly with the natural desire of high-tech companies to tell the world how clever they are, an important part of drumming up new business. One company tossed on the horns of this particular dilemma is Autonomy, the neural network guys.

They've always had a thing for indexing and correlating real-world data. Naturally, this has interested the spooks -- who spend most of their time doing just that -- and as a result Autonomy has scored some juicy contracts in the US and elsewhere for the magic sifting of communications data. So far, so good.

And now, the company's got the gig for the hard job: monitoring communications traffic at the Greek Olympics. It's a thumper of a problem: that part of the world is a natural nexus for many naughty people, the authorities have not always been assiduous in winkling them out, and the existing security infrastructure is of variable quality. You can get shoved in jail for photographing aircraft, but blow up the chief of police's car as a warning (as happened on Leros when I was visiting a couple of years ago -- I have an alibi) and you'll probably get away with it.

Autonomy is naturally proud of this coup (the surveillance job, not the car) and has issued a press release saying so. As press releases tend to be, this came accompanied by a PR on the blower sweetening the pitch and dangling the promise of a natter with Autonomy staff on the subject. Scoop Wearden bit -- and then the script went wrong.

Although Autonomy had indeed put out a press release, it didn't actually fancy any actual journalists asking actual questions. So, the poor PR had to come back to Scoop with the sort of gentle brush-off that's normally reserved for enquiries about the MD's cocaine habit, the financial controller's prolonged holiday in Brazil, or the strange disparity between public and private oil reserve figures (note to libel lawyers: nothing in this paragraph should be construed to relate to any company, living or dead).

Scoop managed to find out more through other sources, so you have your story, gentle reader, and the evil terrorists know not to bother trying anything off-key in Athens. But the lesson remains: if you don't want to talk about something, don't issue a press release.