Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have Nothing to Hide – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education


a surprisingly shallow and ill-informed analysis of the problem given that the author is a professor of law. Glib assertions, for example, like “the government has installed millions of public-surveillance cameras in cities and towns, which are watched by officials via closed-circuit television.” betrays a dismal lack of knowledge. The government has installed thousands, not millions and only on its own premises. Those few probably are watched by security staff. Elsewhere there ARE millions installed but the vast majority are nothing to do with government and are rarely watched by anyone at all. Their footage is examined only if an event has taken place. All of which is incidental.

The KEY argument against the “nothing to hide” based authoritarian position is actually rather simple. In many cases your SECURITY DEPENDS ON YOUR PRIVACY.

This is easily understood in some cases, like keeping your passwords private so that only you can access your bank account. But your current identity, whereabouts and home address, although not usually “secret” should generally always remain private and certainly should never be trivially easy for potential attackers to “connect”. My favourite example of why is the infamous American practice (since revised) of making it possible for any anonymous Joe to locate the name and home address of any car driver just by looking up their license plate on the publicly accessible databases.

This led to a rash of high profile burglaries in the late 80s (I think) when a few enterprising thieves realised that expensive cars parking in the local international airport’s long term car parks presented a golden opportunity. The information made available as a result of the public databases made it trivial to identify the name and home address of the car owner. And it was a reasonable bet that the owner of an expensive car freshly deposited in a long term car park was a) likely to be absent for a while and b) likely to live in a more expensive home than average with more than average pickings for the enterprising burglar.

Such naive attitudes to privacy are one of our major security threats. While you are unlikely to be concerned at what your friends know about your comings and goings, it is clearly dangerous to allow that information to be made public or otherwise easily obtainable. This is even beginning to dawn on facebook users – some of whom have also been burgled recently as a result of being somewhat too open with their own voluntary disclosures.

And most dangerous of all are the threats posed to citizens by their own governments. One of the most obvious lessons of history is that, over time, Governments routinely attack and kill more of their own citizens than any foreign invaders. Compare, for example, how many American citizens have been killed by terrorists in the past 20 years (including 9-11), with how many have been killed by their own police. Approximately half of those killed by the police have been labelled as “justifiable homicide” (many of which are contested)The other half are accidents, panics, and, occasionally, straightforward executions.

It is also the case that the State is far more likely to intrude – without valid cause – into your private affairs than any other potential attacker. It is also vastly more likely to leak the results of its overt and covert storage of your private data.

In short it is time people faced the rather scary fact that their government is usually their most serious potential enemy and behaved accordingly. Privacy, anonymity and personal security are all vital elements in that equation.


About Harry Stottle
Refugee from the Stumbleupon Blogicide of October 2011 Here you will find my "kneejerk" responses to the world and what I happen to bump into. For my more detailed considerations and proposals, please visit my website or my previous main blogging site.

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