The Nothing to Hide argument

Add in naked example. Some people comfy with being seen naked. If it was made law that everyone should be naked, if the majority were in favour, they’d be destroying the right for those who want to cover up to do so.

“If you aren’t doing anything illegal why would you care if someone captures your license plate number?” “If I’m not doing anything illegal, why do the police need to record my license plate number?” It’s a great response. In essence, it points to our civilization’s core principle that the government is not supposed to look over our shoulder unless it has particularized suspicion that we are involved in wrongdoing.

If you kept all your receipts for all your purchases, how would you feel if a stranger looked at all them all? What if they were doing it right in front of you? What if every now and then they got out a notepad and made some notes, that you were not allowed to see?

importance to human life-the human need for a refuge from the eye of the community, and from the self-monitoring that living with others entails; the need for space in which to play and to try out new ideas, identities, and behaviors, without lasting consequences; and the importance of maintaining the balance of power between individuals and the state.

In particular DO: buy things with your card that make it look like you care about your stuff, such as those felt thingies on the bottom of chairs, gear for clearing ice from your sidewalk, etc. DO buy things that make you look like you care about others/animals, such as premium bird food (not the shitty stuff). DON’T buy alcohol, visit an adult store, suddenly start buying groceries with your card when you didn’t before (makes it look like money’s tight) visiting discount stores, even Walmart. And for gawd’s sake, if you visit Sharx Pool Bar in Montreal, pay cash. They established that Sharx’ patrons were the riskiest cardholders in Canada

“I’ve done nothing wrong, so I have nothing to hide”

“I don’t need encryption”

“Encryption is only needed by banks, governments, criminals”

I hear comments like this quite often, and never know how to respond, so in order to clarify my position in my own mind, here’s the brain dump, slightly reformatted for your reading pleasure. Firstly, it is important to remember that privacy isn’t about hiding wrongful acts, as all of the aforementioned phrases imply. Privacy is about retaining the right to choose what others know about us, about having autonomy over our own lives.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with sharing information, as long as it’s your choice to. As soon as information is gleaned about you, or worse inferred through profiling, you no longer have a choice about what information you share.

Worse still, when it comes to information that has been gathered about you, or profiles that have been compiled, is you have no visibility in to that. Governments and organisations can gather various bits of information about you, and you have no control over what they do with it or assume from it. They base their decisions about their interaction with you on data about you that you have no control over.

A friend of mine asked me a few days ago if there’s any way to delete something from Google. They had searched for their own name, and the top results showed information they didn’t want to be public. The sad truth is that, once you put the information out there, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to take back.

Let’s have a think about some of the wider implications. Let’s say you perform any acts that promote freedom, autonomy or self-sufficiency; you may be an activist, a home schooling advocate, home birthing advocate, a doola, or a privacy advocate.

Now, let’s say your government is going to outlaw home schooling for the child’s educational benefit, home birthing because there are so many complications and women don’t know how to give birth, or being a doola because providing support to a birthing mother comes with legal implications in the event anything goes wrong and you’re not insured. Imagine that protesting is declared as an act of terrorism because it causes civilian unrest, or that promoting encryption or privacy is outlawed because it enables people to commit crime without law enforcement agencies being able to detect or track them. These fear tactics have been used by governments in the name of “protecting” their citizens, and in some cases, the actions have now been effectively outlawed.

The truth is, there will always be home-schoolers, home-birthers, doolas and activists. Outlawing these activities simply drives them underground. Individuals will have the choice of complying with government oppression, or risking criminal charges for valuing their autonomy over their own actions.

At this point, I expect some of you to be nodding your heads, some scratching them, and some to still be vehemently in support of the control our governments have over us. Your choice is your own, and the last thing I’ll do is take away your right to choose what you want to believe, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. And herein lies the fundamental issue:

By giving up your privacy, you’re giving up mine too.

Have children, or don’t. Smoke, or don’t, Eat meat, or don’t. I will fervourously defend your right to freedom of choice, because if I don’t, I don’t deserve the right to mine.

German pastor Martin Niemöller is quoted as saying of the German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power:

First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

If you use any of the phrases at the start of this blog post, you are sitting back and letting “them” come for the activist, the freedom advocates of all forms; and if you do that, you’re letting “them” come for you. Okay, enough banging away at those of you who still think it’s okay to deny others the rights they themselves exercise (hope that wasn’t too passive aggressive), let’s take a look at two real life issues with the loss of privacy.

Government Control

The problem with the law is it is defined by the government, and they keep changing the goal posts. Now, many will say that if you do something now which becomes illegal later, you cannot be arrested for it. There is, however, precedent for ex post facto laws. In Australia, retroactive effect of legislation criminalizing certain war crimes have been held to be constitutional (Polyukhovich v Commonwealth). In the UK, the War Crimes Act 1991 created an ex post facto jurisdiction of British courts over war crimes committed during the Second World War. In the USA, many ex post facto laws exist surrounding child abuse and gun ownership. It is reasonable to argue that none of these countries would find unconstitutional any ex post facto law regarding the treatment of children (home schooling, home birthing, being a doola) or national security (activism, privacy advocacy). (This information from WikiPedia.)

Look at how the USA keeps introducing laws to give them the power to detain and question people, to deport them from other countries. The PATRIOT Act is responsible for a lot of injustices, and now with the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), the US military have the permanent right to imprison civilians without charge or trial.

So, it’s not in the slightest bit inconceivable that something you do today may be criminalised tomorrow and you could be arrested for next week. If you’re convicted of an offence, you’re not no longer eligible to vote, which means you can’t vote on changing unfair laws. Brilliant!

Even if the law isn’t ex post facto, you could be brought in for questioning based on your history of having performed what is now an illegal act. And if you’re in the US, they don’t even need to charge you any more.

It’s been discussed to declare Julien Assange and WikiLeaks an enemy of the state. Not so long ago Julian was some guy who ran a web site. Now he’s an international enemy to some, refugee, asylum seeker and his home country’s government have left him hanging. Are you so different from the Julian of old?

Identity Theft

This may be more or less dangerous than government control, depending on who steals your identity, and what they do with it. It’s possibly more likely to happen to you though. Why’s that? If I were in the business of stealing identities to sell to those who will use them for dubious activities, I would look for someone who blends in, I don’t want some identity that may cause authorities to raise an eye brow. A normal, regular, run of the mill person; has a job, may or may not have a family, lives in or near a large city, lives in a house (renting or mortgage). This person will not stand out. Sound like you? Probably sounds like 95% of you.

So now I try and find large data sets, perhaps hacking in to various web sites to get their customer databases. I don’t care about your passwords, just your name, date of birth, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, address and a few other bits. Hint: many web sites ask for this information, many people give this information, and I’d hazard a guess that 99.999% of this information is not encrypted in the databases. Your password? Maybe. Personally identifying information? Nope.

What if I get in to your mobile carrier’s database and get a history of the SMSs you’ve sent and received. I know where you’re going, who you talk to, whether you hate your job, even what you’re having for dinner or that you really don’t want to go and see the in-laws this Saturday.

All this information builds up a stronger profile, and the better the profile I have, the more I can charge for it.

Am I Being Paranoid?

Here’s a thought for you. The governments tell you they are collecting all this information for good, right? They tell you they care about their citizens. They say that you, as a homogeneous collective, need them to enact laws to protect you. It’s bullshit, of course; governments, at least in Australia, UK and USA, are there to provide a return on investment of the corporate lobbyists who want to sell their backscatter x-ray machines, to make a few billion in profit for from the debts of the many, and most importantly, to ensure the people aren’t in a position to revolt against the government. The problem is that you, the individual, are getting in the way. You want to own guns; that’s a problem. You want the right to occupy a few city blocks; that’s a problem. You want to not be cooked at airports; that’s a problem. All these problems the individual you create are making the government’s real job much harder, so they make laws to stop you doing these thing in the name of “keeping the collective you safe.” They don’t care about the individual you. You’re a pesky problem.

If you look at what’s happening in society, you’ll notice that the government segregates society in to factions: the rich and the poor through tax discrimination; opposite- and same-sex couples through tax discrimination and family law related issues such as adoption; I’m sure there are others. This segregation results in individuals of different factions arguing with each other. It also results in individuals demanding equality. But most importantly, it causes most individuals to be distracted and not see what the government is doing to the collective.

You know the saying, “laws are designed to be broken?” I always thought it meant that breaking laws was adventurous and edgy, living life to the fullest. I now think differently. I think it’s true (not for all laws, I must add). Some laws are designed to keep a population under control, on their toes, to make them resentful of those who break the laws and get away with it, keep them preoccupied, so that the law makers can get away with destroying our liberties one by one. And if the laws don’t do a good enough job, make new laws to keep us docile and fearful of our neighbours.

Let’s look again at Julien Assange. He was the head figure of an organisation that provided the medium for distribution of information. Some of this information was an embarrassment to the US government. How did they deal with that? They called him a terrorist, charged him with treason, had his source of income stopped, and used a relationship with another country to ensure he was no longer free to travel. They no doubt used WikiLeaks as a basis for pushing through the NDAA and countless other oppressive laws.

So, tell me again, do you have nothing to hide? Do you not need encryption?

So What Then?

I’m glad you asked! There are a number of ways to protect your privacy, and the first is to be conscious about where you release your information. If you post something on Facebook or Twitter, it’s no longer your data to control. It may be marked as only visible to your friends, but it’s not actually private. Now that you’re limiting your exposure, consider when you do want to share information. If I send you an email, an SMS, instant message, or call you, I want to communicate with you, not you and the folks at Facebook, Google, the Utah Data Center, Echelon any other internet service provider or signals intelligence station. Use encryption. Encryption isn’t just a tool used for people to communicate secrets, it’s a tool used for people to communicate about anything in private.

Some ways to encrypt your conversations:

  • Jitsi for instant messaging (beginner/intermediate)
  • TextSecure for SMSs (beginner)
  • GnuPG for emails (intermediate/advanced)

Finally, store your data with people you trust. Google Mail users entrust all their emails to Google. Do you know that Google may not have any obligation to delete any of your emails, ever, even on your request? Find an email hosting provider that provides secure and private solutions. I’m one. I believe my post is based on sound, historical precedent. There may be some correlation that I may have incorrectly taken as causation. I propose, however, that what I’ve discussed here isn’t new, isn’t unlikely, and if anything, is gaining more presence in the public consciousness. If you disagree, or if you agree, send me a comment. I love hearing from you, and hope you’ll share your perspective, or call me on a few of my statements.

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