Thursday, June 13, 2013

Nothing to hide?

"Why are you worried about the government spying on you, if you don't have something to hide?"
"If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."

If I had pulled out a hair every time I heard someone spout these pompous platitudes, I'd be a bald by now. Yes, the smugness and ignorance make me want to pull out my hair! Bruce Schneier calls the "nothing-to-hide argument" the "most common retort against privacy advocates."

These platitudes show grand ignorance of the principles of American government as entrenched in our Constitution -- particularly the fourth amendment.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.*
Our right to be secure in our "persons, houses, papers, and effects" includes our phones and internet service. No warrant to search (or eavesdrop on) any of these should be secured without (1) probable cause, (2) an oath or affirmation confirming that cause, (3) a clear description of what is to be searched, e.g, not indiscriminate retention of everybody's phone records, and (4) what is to be seized by the search. What have been exposed concerning the NSA does not meet this criteria.

These platitudes reveal an ignorance of the difference between private and illegal! "Doing anything wrong" hints at something illegal, immoral or unethical (and there are some things that are immoral or unethical that are not illegal). Many things we prefer to remain private are perfectly good things. If I sit down in my living room and have a conversation with my wife or children, I don't want my government eavesdropping on us, regardless of the subjects we discuss. Maybe someone needs to keep a surprise party secret. How about your passwords or Social Security number? And who but an exhibitionist does not want their sexual activities to remain private? A little thought will unearth hundreds of things that are not illegal we do with an expectation of them being private. To support unwarranted government spying on its people who "have nothing to hide" is shameful, thoughtless and misinformed, and possibly driven by fear.

Finally, these platitudes are poor because, as columnist Steve Chapman puts it, "Innocent people should not be punished in the pursuit of the guilty." Libertarians, liberals and conservatives must unite to bring constitutionality and common sense back to the preservation of both safety and liberty.
Big Brother Really Is Watching Us
Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'
The Government Might Know You're Reading This

* These are protections for American citizens and do not apply to persons in foreign countries

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