Skip to comments.Privacy and the "Nothing To Hide" Argument
Posted on 07/10/2007 5:34:42 PM PDT by Clint Williams
"One of the most common responses of those unconcerned about government surveillance or privacy invasions is 'I've got nothing to hide.' According to the 'nothing to hide' argument, there is no threat to privacy unless the government uncovers unlawful activity, in which case a person has no legitimate justification to claim that it remain private. The 'nothing to hide' argument is quite prevalent. Is there a way to respond to this argument that would really register with people in the general public? In a short essay, 'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy, Professor Daniel Solove takes on the 'nothing to hide' argument and exposes its faulty underpinnings."At the base of the fallacy, as Bruce Schneier has noted, is the "faulty premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong."
Far too often, discussions of the NSA surveillance and data mining define the problem solely in terms of surveillance. To return to my discussion of metaphor, the problems are not just Orwellian but Kafkaesque. The NSA programs are problematic even if no information people want to hide is uncovered. In The Trial, the problem is not inhibited behavior, but rather a suffocating powerlessness and vulnerability created by the court system’s use of personal data and its exclusion of the protagonist from having any knowledge or participation in the process. The harms consist of those created by bureaucracies – indifference, errors, abuses, frustration, and lack of transparency and accountability. One such harm, for example, which I call “aggregation,” emerges from the combination of small bits of seemingly innocuous data.Happy reading.
When combined, the information become much more telling about a person. For the person who truly has nothing to hide, aggregation is not much of a problem. But in the stronger less absolutist form of the “nothing to hide” argument, people are arguing that certain pieces of information are not something they would hide. Aggregation, however, means that by combining pieces of information we might not care to conceal, the government can glean information about us that we might really want to conceal. Part of the allure of data mining for the government is its ability to reveal a lot about our personalities and activities by sophisticated means of analyzing data. Therefore, without greater transparency in data mining, it is hard to claim that programs like the NSA data mining program will not reveal information people might want to hide, as we do not know precisely what is revealed. Moreover, data mining aims to be predictive of behavior. In other words, it purports to prognosticate about our future actions. People who match certain profiles are deemed likely to engage in a similar pattern of behavior. It is quite difficult to refute actions that one has not yet done. Having nothing to hide will not always dispel predictions of future activity.
Another problem in the taxonomy...
Whether explicit or not, conceptions of privacy underpin nearly every argument made about privacy, even the common quip “I’ve got nothing to hide.” As I have sought to demonstrate in this essay, understanding privacy as a pluralistic conception reveals that we are often talking past each other when discussing privacy issues. By focusing more specifically on the related problems under the rubric of “privacy,” we can better address each problem rather than ignore or conflate them. The “nothing to hide” argument speaks to some problems, but not to others. It represents a singular and narrow way of conceiving of privacy, and it wins by excluding consideration of the other problems often raised in government surveillance and data mining programs. When engaged with directly, the “nothing to hide” argument can ensnare, for it forces the debate to focus on its narrow understanding of privacy. But when confronted with the plurality of privacy problems implicated by government data collection and use beyond surveillance and disclosure, the “nothing to hide” argument, in the end, has nothing to say
bump for later reading
That would be true, if the NSA is / was looking at everyone. That is not happening.
What is wrong with the NSA monitoring any and all traffic from a "person of interest", someone from overseas now here in the USA?
What is wrong with monitoring incoming calls from overseas, especially certain countrys, to the USA?
What is wrong with looking at a $500,000 wire transfer from Detroit to somewhere in the Mideast? Who is the sender and who is the recpient?
Obviously, this can be taken into area where it should not go, but I certainly it needs to be done.
Anti-Flame suit on!
thank you for the post, but it is somewhat annoying to not be able to see the actual text of the article.
Try googling “(your screen name) and Free Republic”
‘bout 10,000 for me. Use “search with omitted results”
I’m with you. What’s needed to keep this from getting out of hand is serious penalties for abuse of information gained this way. And an absolutist approach to the Second Amendment, which is, after all, the way the Founders meant for us keep government in line.
23 pages to refute the nothing to hide argument?
Simple, once the implantation becomes socially acceptable, more people will opt for it; once a super majority are chipped they will roll over the rest and it will look like the current campaign against fatty foods, cigs and booze.
No turning back then.
The nothing to hide argument can work both ways...
Why is the BATFE so against the Fairness in Firearms Testing Act of 2007 if they have nothing to hide? Things that make you go Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...
Gooberment Premise upon which data mining is justified:
“Given sufficient data, we can predict future behavior.”
Such predictions are based upon the softest of soft science.
“It is quite difficult to refute actions that one has not yet done.”
EXACTLY ! ! !
“Having nothing to hide will not always dispel predictions of future activity.”
Want to trust some social science major, or a criminal justice major with your freedoms?