It’s the standard argument against any kind of privacy statement right, you have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide.
But’s it’s also bull-hockey.
Because at the end of the day we all have something to hide. No, not necessarily something illegal, but just things we do, or want to learn more about, etc. that we don’t need the whole world to know about. Bruce Schneier, in his recent post, How Surveillance Inhibits Freedom of Expression, describes the kind of limits we wind up placing on our own behavior when we know other people are watching, and not just law enforcement:
If there is no privacy, there will be pressure to change. Some people will recognize that their morality isn’t necessarily the morality of everyone — and that that’s okay. But others will start demanding legislative change, or using less legal and more violent means, to force others to match their idea of morality
Bruce goes on to talk about how this sort of thinking led to Prohibition, and give some examples of things that religious conservatives might disagree with and try to make illegal. I suspect he is catering to his more liberal and libertarian readers in those examples, but he’s also not wrong. What we consider moral will be completely at the whim of whomever is in power at the time, or of the mob.
Aren’t we already seeing this play out in the political sphere? Don’t we already have guilt by association going on all over social media? And what’s the first thing to go when we discover someone who thinks differently than we think they should? Their privacy goes out the window. We need to know where they live, who they voted for, where they work. We’re going to show up at their house, in their neighborhood, and contact their employer to demand they be fired. And for what? In some cases, not even for publicly saying anything disagreeable, but simply being connected to some one, or some group, who may have disagreed with ours.
These are not just idle words. I’ve worked for companies where it would have been very embarrassing for me to be seen associating with certain political groups, a fire-able offense. As anyone in a law firm can tell you, you simply can’t be identified as an employee and also someone who sympathizes with anyone who is currently involved on the other side of an issue from any of the firms clients. We absolutely depend on the privacy of our interactions in order to be able to fully function in our roles as educated voters without creating a public situation that would cause us to no longer be employed.
Think about it. Are we now creating a world where no one who works for an NFL team, stadium, sub-contractor, or business that benefits from an NFL team can research on their own the current studies being done on concussions and CTE without having that information tracked, shared, and held against them in terms of their employment? Is that a world we want to live in? Does that person have “something to hide”? Absolutely, and let’s not dismiss any employees who are in contact with mental health services, or do something as brazen as follow a blog about surviving child abuse. I’ve been in contact with readers of my own blog who won’t, or can’t “like” it on Facebook or follow it on Twitter in any public way, for fear of repercussion, especially minors who are being abused! They need privacy. It’s an absolute requirement and something I think about all the time.
The bottom line, there are lots of people who need privacy, for many reasons. none of them are doing anything illegal. None of them are acting in an immoral way. They are simply dealing with things, or trying to learn about things, that, unfortunately, their social or professional world is stigmatized against. Taking away anonymity and privacy through surveillance is going to hurt them directly, and everyone else right along with it.