Debunking “If you have nothing to hide …” argument

I am quite a publicly open person.  There are very few things about me, which are not published online or which I am not open to discuss with strangers.  So one could say that I am not much concerned about my privacy.  Given that, and the recent advance in technology – photo and video cameras, storage space, centralized database, and search – I do often say that the privacy is dead.  Some people hate it, some people like it, yet others are neutral.  But I see it more as a fact, rather than a distant future possibility.  And that often gets me into discussions about privacy with people who fill different.

Since I don’t really care much about it, I might have used the “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” argument.  Not because I strongly believe it, but because I think this is the case most of the time.  Today I came across an article that provides a few reasons for why that is a dangerous argument to use.  And I have to say that it made me think and agree with a few points that it raises.

It’s not you who determine if you have something to fear: You may consider yourself law-abidingly white as snow, and it won’t matter a bit. What does matter is whether you set off the red flags in the mostly-automated surveillance, where bureaucrats look at your life in microscopic detail through a long paper tube to search for patterns. When you stop your car at the main prostitution street for two hours every Friday night, the Social Services Authority will draw certain conclusions from that data point, and won’t care about the fact that you help your elderly grandmother – who lives there – with her weekly groceries. When you frequently stop at a certain bar on your way driving home from work, the Department of Driving Licenses will draw certain conclusions as to your eligibility for future driving licenses – regardless of the fact that you think they serve the world’s best reindeer meatballs in that bar, and never had had a single beer there. People will stop thinking in terms of what is legal, and start acting in self-censorship to avoid being red-flagged, out of pure self-preservation.

I still think that the privacy is dead.  And it’s still not a big issue for me.  But I do understand people who worry about it a bit better now.

Leave a Comment