Debunking a myth: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear
The idea that an individual can live in a surveillance society with nothing to fear so long as they have nothing to hide may, on the face of it, appear attractive. For those of us who think of ourselves as 'honest' - we pay our taxes, don't commit murders and are loyal to our partners - why indeed should we fear surveillance?
"Nothing to hide, nothing to fear" (NTHNTF) is a myth that is built on certain false assumptions, and these assumptions are never questioned when it is wheeled out as an argument to support whatever draconian surveillance measure is being pushed out in the face of citizen opposition (commercial organisations rarely try such an approach, since it dooms them to failure from the very beginning). These assumptions include:
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Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'
When the government gathers or analyzes personal information, many people say they're not worried. "I've got nothing to hide," they declare. "Only if you're doing something wrong should you worry, and then you don't deserve to keep it private."
The nothing-to-hide argument pervades discussions about privacy. The data-security expert Bruce Schneier calls it the "most common retort against privacy advocates." The legal scholar Geoffrey Stone refers to it as an "all-too-common refrain." In its most compelling form, it is an argument that the privacy interest is generally minimal, thus making the contest with security concerns a foreordained victory for security.
The nothing-to-hide argument is everywhere. In Britain, for example, the government has installed millions of public-surveillance cameras in cities and towns, which are watched by officials via closed-circuit television. In a campaign slogan for the program, the government declares: "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear." Variations of nothing-to-hide arguments frequently appear in blogs, letters to the editor, television news interviews, and other forums. One blogger in the United States, in reference to profiling people for national-security purposes, declares: "I don't mind people wanting to find out things about me, I've got nothing to hide! Which is why I support [the government's] efforts to find terrorists by monitoring our phone calls!"
The argument is not of recent vintage. One of the characters in Henry James's 1888 novel, The Reverberator, muses: "If these people had done bad things they ought to be ashamed of themselves and he couldn't pity them, and if they hadn't done them there was no need of making such a rumpus about other people knowing."
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