There are several compelling arguments for the right to privacy, one of which is the disturbing fact that I even need to blog about the compelling arguments for the right to privacy. So much so, that this reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the movie Inglorious Basterds…
While the image embedded in this post captures the first quote below quite well, and ease of distribution, I have included some additional relevant quotes and sources…
Over the last 16 months, as I’ve debated this issue around the world, every single time somebody has said to me, ‘I don’t really worry about invasions of privacy because I don’t have anything to hide,’ I always say the same thing to them.
I get out a pen. I write down my email address. I say, ‘Here’s my email address. What I want you to do when you get home is email me the passwords to all of your email accounts, not just the nice, respectable work one in your name, but all of them, because I want to be able to just troll through what it is you’re doing online, read what I want to read and publish whatever I find interesting. After all, if you’re not a bad person, if you’re doing nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.’
Not a single person has taken me up on that offer. I check that email account religiously all the time. It’s a very desolate place.
And if you really, truly, whole-heartedly believe that you don’t have anything to hide? You clearly won’t mind someone rifling through your emails, your photos, your documents, your bank statements, and even your household trash — not to mention your usernames and passwords.
These search engines, technology giants, and Silicon Valley companies don’t forget, unlike in Europe in which they are forced to destroy data when it’s no longer necessary. This information builds up, and up, and up over time and it’s never forgotten.
In one instance, privacy campaigner Max Schrems forced Facebook under European law to hand over its entire stash of data on him. The result? More than 1,200 pages of data separated out in 57 categories — years worth of his information.
As the computer-security specialist Schneier aptly notes, the nothing-to-hide argument stems from a faulty “premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong.” Surveillance, for example, can inhibit such lawful activities as free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy.
Another potential problem with the government’s harvest of personal data is one I call exclusion. Exclusion occurs when people are prevented from having knowledge about how information about them is being used, and when they are barred from accessing and correcting errors in that data. Many government national-security measures involve maintaining a huge database of information that individuals cannot access.
It is a structural problem, involving the way people are treated by government institutions and creating a power imbalance between people and the government. To what extent should government officials have such a significant power over citizens? This issue isn’t about what information people want to hide but about the power and the structure of government.
To that last point, I would like to add, when is the last time you looked at your credit report? The first time I did, it was so chock full of errors and details that were not even mine, it took me over a year to have them all fixed. There was a “collection” for a few hundred dollars from when I was a teenager that was well over the seven year limit for such items, addresses I had never lived at, missing employment data, missing addresses, my date of birth was even wrong. My wife’s was the same way and took just as long to make accurate.
Now if “private companies” that have an incentive to be accurate like Experian, TransUnion and Equifax can all have that much incorrect information about both of us, can you even imagine what information a bureaucratic agency like our Government has about all of us that is wrong, misleading or not belonging to us at all? And unlike the credit agencies, we can’t see what they know about us, let alone fix it – but if they choose to, it WILL be used against us.
Example? If you apply for one of the multitude of TSA Pre-Check options which let you by-pass certain security measures at the airport and are denied, you have no right or ability to force them to share with you why you were turned down. They might share it, if they feel like it, but they just as easily can provide no reason whatsoever even though they “know” something about you that made them “deny” your request for Pre-Check.
So…does it still sound like a good idea for Government to create a detailed and intensive profile on you by collecting, collating, summarizing and concluding based on all your digital data without your having any access to what exactly was collected and exactly how those conclusions were drawn? Because that’s what they are doing right now, and your ignorant, “If you have nothing to hide” defense is giving them all the freedom they need to do it.