"I Have Nothing to Hide" Privacy Argument is a Fallacy

in #privacy5 years ago (edited)

I was having lunch with a couple of buddies the other day. We were discussing the FBI versus Apple issue when one brought out the old “I have nothing to hide argument” when discussing government surveillance and privacy.

The argument that you have nothing to hide is a fallacy. Everyone has something to hide or secure from others. Passwords, credit card numbers, keys, smart phones, websites visited, emails - the list is long.

There are several rebuttals to this statement, but I’ll just list a couple:

  • 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 right to privacy is the right to self. You "own" you. You decide when you want to share you and when you don't. It is really just that simple.

Glenn Greenwald speaks to the issue in much more depth and with greater eloquence than I, but whenever he hears the argument, his reply is this: “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.”

What Greenwald is proposing is a person-to-person request to disclose. It has context. In that environment, the person thinking about releasing access to all his email accounts immediately considers context, and how the requesting party - not a law enforcement agency - may view and/or use whatever is discovered. Careers and lives can be destroyed by divulging secrets that while not illegal, can certainly be embarrassing. Giving anyone the ability to surveil you makes all of each less secure, because if there is anything we’ve learned from the past few decades of internet, it’s that data wants to be free. Once one party has the data, others are sure to find it.

So see, it’s  about context. When talking about the state, or specifically, the USA, it is assumed that you are only talking about terrorism or other illegal things that the USA is looking for.

"an efficient police state doesn't need police” Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs

But, ask anyone that has lived in a police state. The surveillance part creeps in, usually under the guise of security. Are you on a list of registered gun owners? Congratulations, that is the first list that will be used to unarm a society. “Why should I hide the fact that I am Jewish?” was probably said by thousands of people in Germany in the 30s. 

There are some leaders that talk about increasing surveillance of Muslims in the United States of America. Today. If you are Muslim, you should be outraged. What if 2 decades from now, it is Catholics, or Baptists, or NRA members?  Or maybe the state thinks everyone that has participated in a political rally should be placed under surveillance. Personally, I think clowns should be placed under surveillance, because, well, clowns.


So, the USA is not 1930s Germany, or Iraq, or North Korea. Ok, I get that, and I don’t possess any tin-foil hats. BUT, if you own you, why give up the right? Each of us own the right to be private. Simply giving it up for no good reason is a bad idea. All rights should be kept just in case someday you may need them.

Private lives matter.


Agree and nice post. But I am also posting because your picture link at the end is broken. Cheers, buddy!

I've tried repeatedly to fix it to no avail. It is a nice pictures of clowns.

finally got the image! I guess I am going to have to learn markdown. :(

It's definitely an interesting view on the topic. It's funny that law enforcement use this all the time, why would you deny a search if you have nothing to hide, right?

I bet they'd be pretty mad if you asked them to search their homes or cars, because they shouldn't have anything to hide either. They are supposed to be the most upstanding/law-abiding citizens around.

Or how about a quick full-body cavity search... people don't generally understand what they are giving up until it's gone!

Interesting post. Well done :)

Thanks! Don't know why my clown picture is not coming in...

It might help to try using an image host like imgsafe.org to host the image and edit your post with the new link.

Everytime I see you comment, you are helping someone. Nice.

Yeah, I was using my own media library just fine. Just a habit

I agree. Right to privacy includes thoughts and intentions. Imagine that? No right to you own personal thoughts, even what you dream is made public. I value my privacy a lot. And that petty excuse, "I got nothing to hide." That's bull-!#@%. Everybody has something to hide. I look at it like this. You wear clothes to cover your body. You cover yourself to hide your nakedness, its the same exact thing. 1-up

Good analogy!

People should take their privacy more seriously, but the path of least resistance is to just give in.

I hate the "I have nothing to hide" fallacy. If something happens and you give in because "you have nothing to hide" and end up getting in trouble because of some loophole or you did have something to hide after all. The complacency is all too much.

Most people take these things for granted; thanks for pointing it out!

I'm with you Tom! Many of my spazmatic buddies spew the same bullshit about privacy and having nothing to hide. Its a slippery slope, the more rights citizens willingly give up the more Govt will take. We all must remember that rights are no longer rights unless they are ABSOLUTE. The 4th Amendment has already been shredded. Which is next?

Mate your photo link need to be fix if ypu upload using imgur , choose the second link "Direct link" . hopefully this might help 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." - Edward Snowden, Reddit, May 21, 2015 https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/36ru89/just_days_left_to_kill_mass_surveillance_under/crglgh2

Completely love that quote.

I forgot to credit Snowden with that. Thaks for the catch.

I agree wholeheartedly and completely. the government shouldnt be jumping into my life unless it actually has a good darn reason!

Heads up. When my twin sis and I went to Google IO (we received tickets for being wit), we found out from Global Tech Policy that the police can open your phone if it only requires your fingerprint just as if required for a Breathalyzer. But they required a warrant if they need a pass code to open your phone. Very touching article you wrote. It speaks to people's hearts about privacy.

Great post! I totally agree with you. :)

Thanks for the post, it inspired a line of thinking which led to my post today which I referenced you in. Cheers! https://steemit.com/freedom/@lovejoy/empowered-by-privacy-why-freedom-of-speech-is-essential