Privacy and the ‘I Have Nothing To Hide’ Argument

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“Let the government rummage around all they want because I have nothing to hide, I’ve done nothing wrong.” That’s the most common argument in support of government invasions of privacy.

We do not want privacy only to conceal our wrong-doings. That’s why this argument fails. We want privacy for a host of other reasons that have nothing to do with hiding wrongs. We do not put up curtains or draw the shades to conceal wrongs. We do not keep our financial affairs to ourselves to hide crimes. We don’t conceal our social security numbers from people because we’re doing something wrong. We don’t invite anyone and everyone to listen in to our conversations, and it’s not because we’re plotting crimes. Does a child want his parents to broadcast his or her grades in school to everyone? Do children want their parents to tell everyone their habits and their imperfections? Children want privacy as much as adults. It comes natural. The demand for privacy has very, very little to do with concealing wrongs.

The “I have nothing to hide” argument fails because it has the wrong take on the functions of privacy, or its services to us, if we use economics terminology. And when it comes to government intrusions on privacy, it fails for even more reasons.

3:27 pm on December 16, 2012