Notes on “I've got nothing to hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy

Decent is an ad-free, privacy-first Twitter reading experience Join 22 others in the waiting list!Share this on Twitter Recently I stumbled upon this paper about “I've Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy by Daniel J. Solove

Do yourself a favor and read it here

Wiretapping, terrorism, analysis

The American government, after sep 11, engaged in mass surveillance and data-mining

Authorizing NSA to do warrantless wiretapping and analysis suspicious behaviour of its citizen

2002: Various programs, e.g. Total Information Awareness (TIA) started collecting financial, health-related, educational and other data

Looking for patterns of potential terrorism behaviour of its citizen

Ultimately the program has been defunded, after it got the public eyes (most likely continuing in clandestine fashion)

2006: Analysis of customer records from major phone companies

2006: Access to bank records from SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions)

This brought to outrage by many, ignorance by many other making the point “I’ve got nothing to hide”

"If an individual acts in lawful ways, there's nothing to worry about" another point was made

"A privacy harm exists only if skeletons in the closet are revealed"

“If you have nothing to hide, then what do you have to fear?”

Others ask: “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, then what do you have to hide?”

The problem about privacy lies in this very question itself

The "Nothing to hide" argument

Most common points made:

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear

Read my e-mails, I've got nothing to hide

Profile me, analyze me, I've done nothing bad or illegal, do you?

Monitor my phone calls, read what I say about my noisy neighbour, I've got nothing to hide

If you have something to hide, you should be found, arrested and sentenced

Responses:

Do you have curtains?

No need to justify my position, you need to justify yours (govt.): where is your warrant?

Nothing to hide on my side, but nothing to show you either

Show me you credit card bills of the last year

It's about things not being anyone's business

Stalin would have loved this

Everybody has something to hide from somebody. you just need to look hard enough.

By stating: "I've got nothing to hide" you're totally OK with the government infringing rights of millions of people

Which means also that you don't really care what happens, as long as it doesn't happen to you.

For most people the trade-off of privacy vs security makes total sense. "If by collecting information about people, our nation is made secure and ready for terrorist attacks, it's totally fine by me"

This is why the argument against "nothing to hide" is very difficult to get across, since the protection against terrorist attacks outweighs whatever basic or moderate privacy interests someone might have.

Conceptualizing privacy

"Nobody really seems to have any clear idea what privacy really is."

"It's too vague and complex."

Understanding what privacy is, is essential to addressing privacy issues.

"Privacy covers intimate information, access and decisions"

The problem with conceptualizing privacy with intimacy is that not all private information or decision we make are considered intimate (political views, social security number, religion etc).

Orwell's 1984 metaphor: focuses on the harms of surveillance (such as inhibition and social control)
Another metaphor: Franz Kafka’s The Trial, a bureaucracy with inscrutable purposes that uses people’s information to make important decisions about them, yet denies the people the ability to participate in how their information is used

Read about Taxonomy of Privacy in more detail.

The problem with the "nothing to hide" argument

The problem is the underlying assumption that privacy is about hiding bad things.

The "Nothing to hide" argument comes from a wrong “premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong.”

It's also not about "secrecy".

And neither is it about data you give to third-parties (bank records, telephone numbers, messages, etc).

Because third party records result in the government’s ability to access an extensive amount of personal information with minimal limitation or oversight.

Information collection is a form of surveillance. dataveilleince (Roger Clarke)

This misuse and collection of information can and will harm your right to free-speech, democracy and thought expression (there is doubt about that).

Refer to socialcooling.com for more info.

Another problem is "secondary use": the use of data for an unrelated use, ignoring the real reason why data was collected. this of course without the person's consent.

This is of course a very "modern" problem, never before in history of humanity had we had so much information available (digitally or physically).

The problem with the nothing to hide argument is that it focuses on just one or two particular kinds of privacy problems (the disclosure of personal information or surveillance) and not others.

Privacy problems are often difficult to recognize, since it's a very complicated and delicate matter.

In many instances, privacy is threatened not by singular egregious acts, but by a slow series of relatively minor acts which gradually begin to add up

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.

Final words

This is definitely the most interesting paper I've ever read about Privacy.

Do yourself a favor and read it here: “I've Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy.

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