The “nothing to hide” argument mistakenly suggests that privacy is something only criminals desire. In fact, we choose to do many things in private – sing in the shower, make love, confide in family and friends – even though they are not wrong or illegal. Who would not be embarrassed if all of their most intimate details were exposed? Fences and curtains are ways to ensure a measure of privacy, not indicators of criminal behavior. Privacy is a fundamental part of a dignified life.
Even if you think you have nothing to hide, you may indeed have something to fear. You might fear for yourself. As Kafka so chillingly illustrates in “The Trial,” the prospect of unwarranted government pursuit is terrifying. Or you might fear for our society. Living under the constant gaze of government surveillance can produce long-lasting social harm: if citizens are just a little more fearful, a little less likely to freely associate, a little less likely to dissent – the aggregate chilling effect can close what was once an open society.
IF EVERYONE’S EVERY ACTION WERE BEING MONITORED, AND EVERYONE TECHNICALLY VIOLATES SOME OBSCURE LAW AT SOME TIME, THEN PUNISHMENT BECOMES PURELY SELECTIVE.
Perhaps you remain unconvinced. You are sure that you have nothing to hide and you never will. You think our concerns about chilled speech and democratic accountability are overblown, and you think privacy concerns are exaggerated and unlikely to affect you or our society in any case.
But – and this is the biggest hole in the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument – how can you know for sure?
In fact, you have no idea if you have something to fear or not, because you do not know what the government, email and cloud service providers do with the data they collect. If the government keeps secret what it is collecting about you or why, you cannot correct potential errors. And if you know anything about our justice system, you know that errors are common. Transparency is partly about making sure the government’s actions – its outputs – can be evaluated; but transparency is also about making sure the government’s information – its inputs – is accurate.
THOSE IN POWER WILL ESSENTIALLY HAVE WHAT THEY NEED TO PUNISH ANYONE THEY’D LIKE, WHENEVER THEY CHOOSE, AS IF THERE WERE NO RULES AT ALL.
ARE YOU THE NEXT VICTIM EVEN IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE?