Expressions of Freedom

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A yawn escapes me as the PR pitch drones on, way beyond being a reasonably succinct and illuminating presentation. It's ten minutes since the last opportunity for a concise speech, and it's bloating to match Marsters' self-importance, inflating with every word. He appears to expect a round of applause when he finishes, which is unlikely since most of the press use the remote camera fixtures in the room.

Having heard a rumour that PR fluff can rot your brains, I feel it's safer to zone it out, given the improbability of actual content. It's recorded, so I'll assign an intern to tell me anything I'm missing.

It should be nearly done, as Marsters seems fit to burst, and he's usually well-paced in his inflation. I'd better start listening again. "... with these upgrades automatically uploaded to our customers phones tonight. Implementing the latest technologies, we're confident our customers will find a noticeable improvement to our already leading-edge systems." After a pause for applause, he continues, unfazed by, and possibly unaware of, its absence. Outside his head. "I'll happily answer as many questions as time will allow."

"Mister Marsters," a camera squeaks, its operator selected by Mercuris Communications systems as a preferred reporter. "James Tremaine of the Globe, sir. Can I ask how excited you, personally, feel by the technological innovations your company is pioneering?" That'll really tax Marsters' rehearsed responses. Why not ask his hat size? Bland questions from bland questioners, receiving plastic replies. As the parade of uninteresting questions bleat forth from the 'assembled' press, I abandon attempts to stifle yawns.

Finally a camera within reach lights up. "Mister Marsters, Marian Weatherly of the Mirr...". The question dies with a squawk as I stand, discarding the yanked wires.

"Mister Marsters, Jonas Harper of the Chronicle..."

"Mister Harper," Marsters interrupts before I can begin, which I find slightly rude. But the control he manages over his growl is somewhat admirable. "If you'd wait your turn, I'm sure..." you'd ignore me, taking only pre-screened questions from pre-screened reporters.

Politely ignoring his rudeness, I continue. "Would you care to comment on rumours your upgrade includes software to record your customers conversations?"

"How did...", Marsters blurts in surprise, before regaining his composure. With obvious reluctance, and barely suppressed hostility, he replies. "Changes made at the request of the Security Service allow limited AI programs to scan communications on our networks, searching for certain keywords or phrases, but only suspect calls are recorded, so let me assure our honest customers that their communications will remain secure. And I'm sure, Mr. Harper," this time any attempt to suppress the venom is abandoned, "that the Security Service will be grateful to you for publicizing this."

He glares. He really should've looked away for another questioner. But since he's obviously inviting follow up questions, I'll happily oblige. "What sort of suspect calls are they expecting? Must they provide you with authorised requests for the information? And isn't this a regressive step back to the days when private communications were easier to intercept, particularly given your company's pride in the security of its network?"

Reddening features indicate the approach of one of his rants, when a crony, Pemberton I think it is, spoils things with an urgent whisper. Brushing him away, Marsters takes the opportunity to regain a measure of composure. "Questions regarding the use of information gathered should be directed to the Security Service. I'm sure that most reasonable people understand the need for discretion on such sensitive issues, and would support measures to make our society safer." He looks away this time, seeking more amenable questions.

I should leave it at that, and not risk further antagonizing him for no reason. "One last thing, Mister Marsters. How excited are you, personally, about the prospect of listening in to your customers intimate phone conversations?"

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