If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Everyone has heard this argument. I’m going to assume that, if you’re reading this, you have a problem with the statement but are not sure how to do anything about it. How does one counter it? I’ll admit I have no definitive answer myself, but I have found some helpful pointers. I’ve been doing some digging and found a few useful counter-arguments. I’ll list some:
- If I’m not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me.
- Because the government gets to define what’s wrong, and they keep changing the definition.
- Because you might do something wrong with my information.
As the link above correctly points out, the problem with these quips is that they all accept (to a lesser or greater degree) that ‘privacy’ means you’re hiding something, or that you’re up to no good. But privacy is a human need.
What’s also a need is the need to do something about this quickly. I had a conversation with a younger relative recently, who asserted that there was nothing wrong with not having a private, unrecorded, moment to oneself. Already the generation who are entering adulthood today are willing to surrender their freedoms in the name of security. This is a problem right now, and I felt this, even before Edward Snowden defected and delivered his alternative Christmas message (which, by the way, was the best two minutes of television I’ve seen this year).
So I did some more digging and found another useful resource. These arguments may prove more useful:
- So do you have curtains?
- Can I see your credit-card bills for the last year?
- I don’t need to justify my position. You need to justify yours. Come back with a warrant.
- I don’t have anything to hide. But I don’t have anything I feel like showing you, either.
- If you have nothing to hide, then you don’t have a life.
- Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.
- It’s not about having anything to hide, it’s about things not being anyone else’s business.
While it may be looking a lot simpler, the pages from which I’m lifting these statements do point out that they are only useful when trying to counter the ‘nothing to hide’ argument in its extreme forms. Most privacy invasion takes place more subtly, on a level where no-one will really notice the information gathering and/or are told it will not be made public. But this relies on trust in the system and in the people managing it. In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that power that is voted into one person may be eventually transferred to someone you don’t like or trust. At that point it becomes too late. That next person might want to use your information in a different way – something that may not be to your liking.
There is a lot of information out there, about each one of us, that wouldn’t bother most people if it were revealed, such as the books one borrows from a library, or the fancy dress worn to the last party. But if that information were taken out of context and acted upon, problems arise. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you borrow a book from the library on cancer because you’re interested in learning more about it. Then, you go to a fancy dress party and buy a wig. Taking those two pieces of information together might look like you have cancer yourself. If your insurance company got hold of the information, your premiums might go up and you might be denied access to certain services. Now it’s a problem.
It’s not so much an Orwellian problem (which does apply) as a Kafkaesque one. If you are unfamiliar with ‘Der Prozess‘, then get familiar with it. In it, the main character is essentially subjected to the whims of the system (to his distinct disadvantage) without knowing why. The information the government has on him is inaccessible to him, so he doesn’t know what he’s on trial for and has no say in correcting anything that might be false.
This applies to our society because, as in Kafka’s novel, there are really two versions of us – our real-selves and our information-selves. And problems are going to befall our real-selves if and when our information-selves start to represent the golden copy of our identities.
I can’t really conclude this posting with a solution because I have no solution; just a very real fear of what is to come. But I do know this:
You have a right to be worried about losing your privacy.
I would like to thank this blog and this blog for being the primary sources of information for this posting. I realise I’ve drawn heavily from your work, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate spreading the word is important in this instance.