Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’

Zapyon (CC)

Daniel J. Solove digs into the complexities of limiting governmental surveillance of citizens, in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

…On the surface, it seems easy to dismiss the nothing-to-hide argument. Everybody probably has something to hide from somebody. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn declared, “Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find what it is.” Likewise, in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s novella “Traps,” which involves a seemingly innocent man put on trial by a group of retired lawyers in a mock-trial game, the man inquires what his crime shall be. “An altogether minor matter,” replies the prosecutor. “A crime can always be found.”

One can usually think of something that even the most open person would want to hide. As a commenter to my blog post noted, “If you have nothing to hide, then that quite literally means you are willing to let me photograph you naked? And I get full rights to that photograph—so I can show it to your neighbors?” The Canadian privacy expert David Flaherty expresses a similar idea when he argues: “There is no sentient human being in the Western world who has little or no regard for his or her personal privacy; those who would attempt such claims cannot withstand even a few minutes’ questioning about intimate aspects of their lives without capitulating to the intrusiveness of certain subject matters.”

But such responses attack the nothing-to-hide argument only in its most extreme form, which isn’t particularly strong. In a less extreme form, the nothing-to-hide argument refers not to all personal information but only to the type of data the government is likely to collect. Retorts to the nothing-to-hide argument about exposing people’s naked bodies or their deepest secrets are relevant only if the government is likely to gather this kind of information. In many instances, hardly anyone will see the information, and it won’t be disclosed to the public. Thus, some might argue, the privacy interest is minimal, and the security interest in preventing terrorism is much more important. In this less extreme form, the nothing-to-hide argument is a formidable one. However, it stems from certain faulty assumptions about privacy and its value…

[continues in the Chronicle of Higher Education]


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17 Comments on "Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Jun 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm |

    It’s not even a matter of what you’ve actually done–it’s what someone with access to your accounts can MAKE IT APPEAR you’ve done. 

  2. Generally when someone tries the “nothing to hide” tack with me, I say something like “Well, if privacy is only necessary when you have something to hide, let me know the next time you’re going to fuck your wife and I’ll come by with my camera.”

    This idea that every facet of everyone’s lives should be known to the government is antithetical to fairness and freedom for a number of reasons, but I would like to expound on a point touched on by the author of this article.

    We live in a society where “laws” have far outstripped reality in the sense that there is simply no way to even know what all the laws are, let alone comply with them all in day to day life.

    Yet, not everyone is arrested and charged with all of their crimes.

    The reason is two-fold. First, the government is simply not aware of the specific facts of every occurrence of law-breaking. Second, there is a process of “selective prosecution” taking place.

    By providing the government with the information they lack in the first case, it should be clear that selective prosecution would only increase as a result. There are always “ever more minor” political dissidents who aren’t worth the trouble to frame given the current set of resources but whom would be targeted if the “cost” of doing so was lower.

    Wholesale invasion of privacy and databasing by the state would lead to such a lower “cost”.

  3. Truths used to be self evident, now we have to justify the reason. Fascism becomes common place.

    ‘The ones who went along with it’

  4. if a government spy’s on its citizens
    then it is clearly NOT
    government for, by and of the people
    it is a ruling class
    determined to monitor potential threats to their power
    in the name of national security

    “Look, there’s a: Commie, Nazi, Anarchist, Taliban, Al Kindavague Terrorist over there;
    don’t worry, we’ll protect you by spying on you and removing your civil rights.”

  5. Anarchy Pony | Jun 13, 2012 at 10:43 pm |

    Remember kids, it’ not “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.” It’s actually “As long as you don’t defy those in power you have nothing to fear.”

  6. Kabakun749 | Jun 14, 2012 at 7:16 am |

    We live in a society where “laws” have far outstripped reality in the sense that there is simply no way to even know what all the laws are, let alone comply with them all in day to day life.

  7. lilbear68 | Jun 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    ‘ive done nothing wrong so i have nothing to fear’ is the axiom of the stupid

    mother teresa couldnt live a week without breaking a law,  code or some other rule

    when facism comes to america it will be wrapped in the flag and quoting the bible

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