If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear right?
The statement is basically a false dichotomy – the same kind of conundrum as “you’re either with us or against us.” It presents a false choice: you are either guilty of something and therefore have a reason to hide it, or you are not guilty of anything and therefore have no reason to hide anything. It is based on the (false) premise that privacy’s sole purpose is to conceal wrongdoing, and it excludes the possibility that someone may be innocent of any wrongdoing but may still want to conceal their activities.
A Muslim man working in Quebec as a telecommunications sales manager sent a casual text message to colleagues urging them to “blow away” the competition at a trade show in New York City. He was arrested without warning by the provincial police 3 days later and detained for over a day while his house was searched. During his detention, a team of police officers allegedly conducted an “intrusive” four-hour search.
Nobody needs to justify why they “need” a right: the burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right. But even if they did, you can’t give away the rights of others because they’re not useful to you.
Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
The old cliché is often mocked though basically true: there’s no reason to worry about surveillance if you have nothing to hide. That mindset creates the incentive to be as compliant and inconspicuous as possible: those who think that way decide it’s in their best interests to provide authorities with as little reason as possible to care about them. That’s accomplished by never stepping out of line. Those willing to live their lives that way will be indifferent to the loss of privacy because they feel that they lose nothing from it. Above all else, that’s what a Surveillance State does: it breeds fear of doing anything out of the ordinary by creating a class of meek citizens who know they are being constantly watched.
Here’s the thing, privacy is not about hiding. It’s about informational self-determination, or in plain English, controlling whether or not you can hide. Privacy is the right to control information about yourself.
If you make the conscious choice that you are okay with the World seeing your photos, your location, your health information, and so on, that’s totally fine. That’s still you exerting control over your information.
However, if someone else makes the choice to let the World see your photos, your location, or your health information, without your consent, that’s not fine. That is a violation of your privacy. That is you losing control over your information.
Everyone makes choices everyday on who can see his personal information, and in doing so, he is exerting their control over it. His choices, are not your choices. You would not want him choosing for you, just as he would not want you choosing for him. You are both making valid privacy decisions.
You should respect other people’s right to exert more control over their information, just as they should for yourself.
Privacy is about empowering strangers with information who probably do not have your best interests at heart. It is essential to who you are.
Do you behave differently at home than how you would in public? Are there people you wouldn’t say or do certain things around? Are there times when you want to do things that are not illegal but taboo in your culture?
It’s also an illusion that you are in control what you reveal. You type in your email, watch funny cat videos and order something from Shopee. You think that’s the collected data, what you chose, but that’s only a fraction of data being collected. Your reactions (i.e. slowing down but not clicking), not watching something, order of browsing – all these create an accurate picture of you. These datasets and your patterns are then cross referenced against your behaviour in other apps and websites.
It’s like a tiny spy sitting on your shoulder and reporting your every move, and your mood. Even the people closest to you do not have that level of understanding of your deepest fears, desires, and ambitions.
You are not the one that gets to decide what you have to hide. The government and companies do, and they can change the standards whenever they want.
One could argue that some people in some of those organisations have a moral compass that tries to incorporate your interests into their actions, but when it is all so big and you are so small, it won’t count for much in the end.
In the age of information, your personal data is power and whoever have access to that is more powerful, and the more they have acces to your data, the more powerless you become.