“I Have Nothing To Hide” Really Means “You Can’t Confide Anything In Me”
People who don’t care for their privacy are missing a vital piece of the puzzle: everybody is safeguarding their own privacy and key pieces of others’ privacy. By belittling the need for their own privacy and right to keep secrets, they are also saying that nobody else should ever trust a secret to them.
Privacy is frequently mistaken for an individual privilege, when it is a collective necessity.
Without privacy, laws can’t be broken. And if laws – formal and informal – can’t be broken, they are rarely questioned. When rules aren’t questioned, a society stops dead in its tracks.
Not long ago, people who were born homosexual were criminal from birth. Long after that had been abolished, homosexuality was considered a mental illness. (In Sweden, that classifying-as-an-illness came to an end as thousands and thousands of people called in sick one morning, stating they “felt a little gay today”.)
If today’s mass surveillance laws had been in place in the 1950s, there would never have been a civil rights movement. There would never have been a human rights movement to establish sexual equality. People who are born homosexual would still be criminal from birth, merely for being born a certain way. And that’s just one of many areas where values have progressed – and progressed for the better.
This demonstrates the collective harm caused by mass surveillance, and frankly, by law enforcement that is too effective.
But there’s another collective aspect of privacy that has gone undiscussed – and that’s the fact that people aren’t just keeping secrets of their own; they’re also keeping the secrets others have confided in them, for personal, business, or even spiritual reasons where applicable.
After all, if you don’t mind the government reading your mail and your texts with the usual careless shrug of “I have nothing to hide”, that means you don’t mind them reading the conversations you are having with other people. And that correspondence was not just a secret of yours; it was also the secret of the respective people you were corresponding with. If somebody confides in you that they were assaulted, for example, an “I have nothing to hide” means that you’re going to give up not just the secrets of your own, but the secrets confided to you as well, including that somebody close to you was assaulted.
It boils down to the observation that the statement “I have nothing to hide” translates to “you can’t confide anything in me for any reason”.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.