Data Security

Privacy vs. “I have nothing to hide”

To start this article, I should mention what those words mean. Freedom means “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” and liberty means “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.” However, from now on, when I use any of those words, I mean both of them. So whether I write freedom or liberty, I mean “freedom and liberty”.

I value my liberty. I think liberty is what makes humans, humans. As a Middle Eastern, I understand how much my freedom is valuable and important. Us Middle Easterners are very much familiar with struggles one can have to gain freedom.

We fight for freedom in Middle East. If you’ve followed Middle East news in past 10 years, you surely understand what I’m talking about. Part of our fight for liberty needs us to be anonymous. In Middle East, you may get arrested or executed for simply talking against the dictator, so many of people take anonymity very serious when they talk politics, or anything else.

Anonymity is part of privacy. Anonymity is a choice when someone has privacy. I should explain this too. Being anonymous is a choice while privacy is a right. Someone with privacy can or may be anonymous but one can be identified and known while one still has privacy. I for example am active in a social network with my real name but I still take my privacy seriously, and am careful about my computing and acts.

Now back to what I was saying. In a situation like Middle East, privacy is so essential for living that almost everybody takes it seriously. I don’t mean all people are avoiding Google or Facebook, etc. but I mean they try their best to not give their data to the government.

People in Middle East basically understand the value and importance of privacy. However, even in Middle East, many people give me the argument of “I have nothing to hide” and refuse to take their privacy and rights seriously. Many don’t understand with not taking their privacy seriously, what they’re giving away.

To live as a free human being, and not be controlled or conquered by any person or power, you need privacy.

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.

Edward Snowden

Let’s start arguing against the “I have nothing to hide.”

Privacy and protection

Imagine yourself with your nice family. You and your wife with a beautiful child living in a nice home with peace and happiness, only thing is that all the walls are made by glass and are see-through. Suddenly some day someone knocks on your door and gives you information about anything personal you’ve ever had with your family.

Maybe someone knowing your bathroom habits or sexual activity or even what you’ve had for breakfast in past 30 days is not a big deal for you, you probably shared that information online with some apps knowingly or unknowingly but aren’t you uncomfortable right now?

Or imagine every time you go to bathroom someone texts you “you’re in bathroom, check this bathroom app or supply” or every time you open the fridge someone calls you, and you can’t refuse to answer, and tells you there’s this great meal or food you should buy. How do you feel?

Or once in while someone publishes some papers about you explaining every single private or public thing you do in your life. I bet you’ll you crazy.

Without privacy, everything I said will happen or is happening. All advertisements, all products you suggested to you, all stuff you read online, all data breaches, etc. are basically stuff I explained in different forms and the forms I mentioned will eventually happen to you some day if we don’t fight against surveillance and privacy violation.

You need privacy to avoid unfortunately common threats like identity theft, manipulation through advertisements, discrimination based on your personal information or identity, harassment, and many other real harms that arise from invasions of privacy.

An analysis conducted by MIT researchers found that “just four fairly vague pieces of information — the dates and locations of four purchases — are enough to identify 90 percent of the people in a data set recording three months of credit-card transactions by 1.1 million users.”

Now let me give you an example. Imagine some basic user of basic Google dis-services, search, drive, calendar, tasks, communications, maps and locations, email, and media (video, photos, music, etc). All these dis-services perse uses are completely under the control of Google and Google is constantly collecting personal information about perse.

Now, with analysis of data Google collects about you, it can easily manipulate perse. Controlling what emails perse receives, what news perse reads, checking perse’s behavior, showing ads for that behavior, manipulate perse’s actions with step-by-step impacting perse’s mind, and finally make a new slave for its digital and real-life dominance and modern slavery.

With all location data Google can even tell when and where you went to toilet, that precise. It can check what did you do and with all data you gave away to it, it even can guess pretty much what you’ve thought about.

Now imagine Google selling or giving away those information and analysis to every person or power or customer it wants and those sell or give away your information to another person or customer or power and this happens again and again and again. Are you really comfortable with this?

It’s critical to remember that privacy isn’t just about protecting a single and seemingly insignificant piece of personal data, which is often what people think about when they say, “I have nothing to hide.” For example, some may say they don’t mind if a company knows their email address while others might say they don’t care if a company knows where they shop online.

However, these small pieces of personal data are increasingly aggregated by advertising platforms like Google and Facebook to form a more complete picture of who you are, what you do, where you go, and with whom you spend time. And those large data profiles can then lead much more easily to significant privacy harms. If that feels creepy, it’s because it is.

Back to Middle East. You may live somewhere other than Middle East, somewhere nice like Switzerland or Sweden or Finland etc. and I’m sure you’re always thankful you’re not fighting for your life every single day or you’re not afraid of talking about your prime minister doing some crap works against the public benefit, and I’m happy for you.

However, do you think your politicians or even normal people in the streets would respect you and your rights or even treat you right if your very being wasn’t protected? What would happen if you lose your rights step by step? Are you planning to lose your life and every right you have?

The “I have nothing to hide” argument means giving away your right for privacy which basically means surveillance and as the next step, violating every other right you have is acceptable no matter how and when and by who it’s being done.

Privacy is a right

History proves that if you don’t protect your right in something, it will be taken away. Any fundamental right anybody has is gained with fight and war and blood. There was no basic right if in some period in history some people weren’t fighting for that basic right. There was no freedom if some people weren’t fighting for freedom, or weren’t fighting for protecting it, and this applies to other rights as well.

Even in (relatively) free societies and countries, people are constantly fighting to protect their rights even if they’re not threatened. You should have the right to free speech even if you feel you have nothing important to say right now. You should have the fight for going outside even if the weather is not well for you right now.

Even if you don’t want to use a right right now, you should protect it because some day you may want it or you may need to use it. Privacy is one of the basic rights you should protect even if you have nothing private right now, which I think is impossible (to have nothing to hide).

Privacy (and your data) is valuable

Your privacy and data is valuable much that corporations and governments are willing to pay for it. A simple web search about corporations and governments asking and buying for people’s data gives you enough articles and news reports that you can’t read in lifetime.

If corporations and governments find value in your data and personal information, why don’t you? Corporations and governments build very detailed and surprisingly accurate profiles of us that are very frightening. With that data, they can control every aspect of our lives by manipulating our minds and behaviors and they are doing it easily because they know or can know everything about us.

What should we do?

I know it’s hard to switch but we got to. Stop using dis-services that impose surveillance on you and start using services that respect your right of privacy. Some of them may not be free (as they may cost money) but it’s surely better to pay with money than paying with your data and life.

Start replacing every software that violates your privacy with free software that respects your freedom and rights.

In your offline life, start using stuff that doesn’t require you to identify yourself and avoid stuff that impose surveillance on you or collect your data. There are many things to do or avoid which can be done step by step and I don’t want to mention them one by one but I can give you an example: try to pay cash instead of using debit/credit cards.

You can’t be completely anonymous or private online or offline but that’s not a great argument is it? It’s like arguing that you can’t prevent being shot in a war so why resisting it and get shot only one time and going to get shot seventy bullets.

Of course there’s a difference. And much more important than that difference, it is a start for being able to protect ourselves against surveillance completely. It may not happen tomorrow or the day after that, but if we do right, we can expect it in our lifetime.

Privacy is important. It is essential for human beings. Take it seriously and never think about “I have nothing to hide”, you have everything to hide from those who misuse your trust or mistreat you and they are everywhere.

Some arguments by other people

Edward Snowden remarked “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.” He considered claiming nothing to hide as giving up the right of privacy which the government has to protect. (Source)

Daniel J. Solove stated in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education that he opposes the argument. He believed that a government can leak information about a person and cause damage to that person, or use information about a person to deny access to services, even if a person did not actually engage in wrongdoing. A government can cause damage to one’s personal life through making errors. Solove wrote “When engaged directly, the nothing-to-hide argument can ensnare, for it forces the debate to focus on its narrow understanding of privacy. But when confronted with the plurality of privacy problems implicated by government data collection and use beyond surveillance and disclosure, the nothing-to-hide argument, in the end, has nothing to say.” (Source)

Adam D. Moore, author of Privacy Rights: Moral and Legal Foundations, argued, “it is the view that rights are resistant to cost/benefit or consequentialist sort of arguments. Here we are rejecting the view that privacy interests are the sorts of things that can be traded for security.” He also stated that surveillance can disproportionately affect certain groups in society based on appearance, ethnicity, sexuality, and religion. (Source: page 204 of the book)

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and cryptographer, expressed opposition, citing Cardinal Richelieu’s statement “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”, referring to how a state government can find aspects in a person’s life in order to prosecute or blackmail that individual. Schneier also argued that the actual choice is between “liberty versus control” instead of “security versus privacy”. (Source)

Harvey A. Silverglate estimated that the common person, on average, unknowingly commits three felonies a day in the US. (Source: Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. Encounter Books. 2011. ISBN9781594032554.)

Emilio Mordini, philosopher and psychoanalyst, argued that the “nothing to hide” argument is inherently paradoxical. People do not need to have “something to hide” in order to hide “something”. What is hidden is not necessarily relevant, claims Mordini. Instead, he argues an intimate area which can be both hidden and access-restricted is necessary since, psychologically speaking, we become individuals through the discovery that we could hide something to others. (Source: Mordini “Nothing to Hide — Biometrics, Privacy and Private Sphere.” pp.257-260)

Julian Assange agreed with Jacob Appelbaum and stated that “Mass surveillance is a mass structural change. When society goes bad, it’s going to take you with it, even if you are the blandest person on earth.” (Source)

Ignacio Cofone, a law professor, argued that the argument is mistaken in its own terms because, whenever people disclose relevant information to others, they also disclose irrelevant information. This irrelevant information has privacy costs and can lead to other harms, such as discrimination. (Source)

Glenn Greenwald did a great TED Talk named why privacy matters and explains how the argument “only bad people hide their activities and good people have nothing to hide is wrong”. (Source)