“But I have nothing to hide” is an argument that we hear often nowadays. We become more and more aware of the ways both corporates and governments keep an eye on us, and the Snowden leaks have escalated our awareness to a new level. It’s already justified to say that we live in a surveillance society. But some people deny that this is a problem. The said argument is one of the most common excuses, and no doubt a convenient way to just ignore the issue. But it is really a flawed argument. Here’s why.
You don’t know what you have
You can’t remember all your documents and electronic conversations. So how can you claim that there’s nothing bad in them? Almost everybody will go “Oops, no I don’t want to show that one” when digging through old archives. Also keep in mind that corporates and agencies may have old information about you that you haven’t got yourself. Your copy might have been lost or deleted, but that doesn’t clear the agencies’ records.
You don’t know what could be bad for you
Our daily life is regulated by legislation that is so complex that no one can master it all. Not even lawyers can be experts on all the areas of our daily life. So how can you be sure that you never break the law? No, you can’t. I bet most of us break some obscure paragraph almost daily.
You don’t know how your own situation will change
You act according to the moral norms that your role requires. But roles change over time and you may be forced to adopt to a totally new moral framework. In that situation your past might be in conflict, and you are a lot better off if there’s no comprehensive record of how you have acted previously.
You don’t know how society will change
Look back at the fifties, sixties and seventies. The world was so different then, and our values were different too. The change has not stopped, quite the opposite. Our society’s values regarding ethics, moral, politics, activism, religion, sexuality, the environment, entertainment, etc. etc. change faster than ever before. You can be pretty sure that you live according to today’s norms. But you can never know what tomorrow's norm will be. Wait 30 years and the complete profile of your life might look quite bad.
It’s not only your data, it’s your friends’ data too
Take a look at your stored data; documents, photos and communications. A how big part of that doesn’t affect anybody else but you? No, that’s probably a quite small part. So giving up privacy is not your own business, it affects all your friends too. Have you asked if they still want to share stuff with you if you adopt a "nothing to hide" -attitude?
Your digital environment can make you suspect
The authorities’ signal intelligence works largely by creating a huge model about how people interact. Who communicates and meets with each other? There is a true risk that a full profile of your daily life can create a suspicious pattern with the environment. Imagine that one of your friends know someone who is being watched for terrorism, and another member of the same organization happens to visit the pub at the same time you’re there. Both carry smartphones that feed location data into the surveillance network, and suddenly you're on a list of people who potentially could have met with the terrorist. You may face real trouble, for example when traveling, if a couple of coincidents like this pile up. And you have no clue what it is about.
Privacy is important to you even if you don't value your own privacy
Can a democratic society work without privacy? Can an election be fair if one of the parties controls the signal intelligence and has a comprehensive picture of what other parties are doing? Can we fight corruption and criminality among the authorities if whistleblowers can’t work anonymously? Can the press fulfill its task as watchdog if sources can’t be protected? No, no and no. You may be ready to surrender your personal privacy, but by doing so you contribute to a destructive development that threat the fundament of our democratic society. Don’t be part of that!
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