Privacy: The Nothing to Hide Argument

When I am having a discussion about mass surveillance and privacy, it is far to often the case that the discussion gets stuck on the argument: if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. It seems that a lot of people are convinced that the idea of more security for less privacy is a valid reason for giving up on privacy. Not only is this a destructive argument (it makes further discussion completely impossible), it is also a faulty premise. The usage of this argument is a reason to make the reasoning that a lot of people see privacy as hiding something bad or illegal. Why is this? If this were the case, that privacy has this purpose, why is it a human right (see art 12)?

What is privacy?

Understanding privacy is a crucial step, before you can have any valuable or non-destructive discussion. It should be clear that privacy comes in different forms. Privacy is something that is defined by the culture in which you try to define it. The concept of privacy has changed throughout the years due to the introduction of new technologies (i.e. Internet, smartphones, etc ).

For my discussion, I would like to define the concept of privacy as follows. Privacy, in our western culture, is the ability to have control over you information when you share it over media and, when using common sense, expect implied privacy. The concept of implied privacy: if I say something in a private chat to my friend X, I expect the notion of ‘implied privacy’. If I share it with my friend X, I don’t expect my message to end up in some sort of mass surveillance program. If I walk in a public space, and my face is recorded on a CCTV camera, I don’t expect it to be linked with my online messages. Why? Because it is my choice if I want to disclose the link between my location (where the camera has recorded me) and my online conversations or even search history on search engines.

Problems with mass surveillance

The privacy problem I would like to touch here, are the problems that arise with mass surveillance. This type of data gathering is an attack on the fundamentals of free speech and personal privacy. Data is being gathered from the biggest social media and search engines, wires are being tapped and even routers are being backdoored to get to your data.

The problem with mass surveillance on this scale, is the fact that data is stored in central data centers. Pieces of data are linked together behind the user his back. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn declared:

Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find what it is.

Which is an ironic remark on the fact, that if you piece data together in some specific way you can make a case against somebody. The context of the data is lost when it is being tapped or gathered, the intention or purpose of the data is not recorded, together with a non-transparant data-gathering program, this is a recipe for privacy breaching measures or wrongfully incriminating an individual. It can be best describe with this scene in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s novella “Traps,” which involves a seemingly innocent man put on trial by a group of retired lawyers in a mock-trial game, the man inquires what his crime shall be. “An altogether minor matter,” replies the prosecutor. “A crime can always be found.”

Although my article used examples and facts about the spying programs of the NSA, it should be noted that all big governments have these programs. As ordinary people we should demand privacy and take this right in our own hands. We shouldn’t give up on privacy for a deal on more security. The perfect end to this blogpost is a quote of Mikko, which I used in a previous blogpost aswel:

Privacy is implied, privacy is not up for discussion. This is not a question between privacy against security. It’s a question of freedom against control.