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Why 'I have nothing to hide' is a bad argument against privacy
Sep 12, 2021
3 minutes read

The most common retort people have against caring about the privacy of their data is “Why should I care when I have nothing to hide.” Edward Snowden famously said:

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.

In this article, I want to cover three very simple reasons why you should care about privacy, even if you think you have nothing to hide.

Reason 1: You’re probably already breaking the law but don’t know it.

The average person commits three felonies a day due to vaguely written laws. Don’t believe me? The legal definition for a conspiracy, which is a felony, is “An agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, along with an intent to achieve the agreement’s goal. Most U.S. jurisdictions also require an overt act toward furthering the agreement.” That means if you talked about drinking alcohol with friends while you were underage, and then you went ahead and drank alcohol, you just committed a felony, and you could be charged for a felony in addition to the actual crime you committed. In some situations, you don’t even need to do the actual crime – just conspiring to do it is already a felony that you can be sent to jail over!

Reason 2: Even if you aren’t already breaking the law, you can be made to seem you are.

Cardinal Richelieu said it best: “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” The justice system isn’t perfect, and an estimated 6% of state imprisonments are wrongful convictions. And this is when we assume all parties in the trial were good, honest, and following the law.

We have strict rules around discovery and search and seizure for a reason, but we don’t have as strict rules for digital privacy yet, and it’s your responsibility to be careful with what information you share online.

Reason 3: Data is forever, but trust isn’t.

Even if you fully and completely trust an entity with your data right now, there’s no reason to suggest you can trust them indefinitely – company leadership and strategy can change, government policy and laws can change, and people’s motivations and values can also change. The problem is – once the data is out there on the internet, you can never take it back. Even if you “delete” something online, some services will mark it as hidden and not show it but continue to store a copy in their databases for their records.

The takeaway

Privacy is a fundamental human right. Privacy shouldn’t be treated as an optional chip we can choose to spend in return for convenience. Instead, we should value our digital privacy the same way we value our physical privacy and advocate our representatives to respect and uphold those rights through legislation and policy.

I want to end this post with a quote from Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who was one of the first to publish the Snowden files:

The other really destructive and, I think, even more insidious lesson that comes from accepting this mindset is there’s an implicit bargain that people who accept this mindset have accepted, and that bargain is this: If you’re willing to render yourself sufficiently harmless, sufficiently unthreatening to those who wield political power, then and only then can you be free of the dangers of surveillance.


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