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Something to Hide, Something to Fear - 2016/10/07
Often when one tries to explain the importance of privacy, especially in the digital age, one of the most common counter-arguments that is used is the "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." argument, and although this sounds reasonable at first glance, there are flaws to it, especially since that very statement does not take into account the extent to which information has gained importance in our society.

To begin, the same could be told to you in any sort of regime, including oppressive dictatorial regimes which most of us can agree are devastating. Therefore, if the argument is valid for us in our western representative democracies, then it is also so for these other regimes. We cannot pretend that just because it's a regime that we find more agreeable or disagreeable that our rule applies to it or not based on something so subjective. However, this in and of itself is not a counter-argument to the statement, but rather simply a reminder of the consequences and of how those who truly believe this statement should be consistent with these beliefs including for regimes that they may not agree with.

Now, as for a counter-argument, it must first be said that this statement is not taking into account the future, but only present and past. Yes, what we are doing currently is legal (or not), but what about in 20 years? Will it still be legal then? We may think that a change in regime is something very difficult, and although true, that does not mean that it is something all that far away, in some instances I've heard that we are never further than 8 years away from a change in regime. So when the regime changes you don't know if what your activities now will be considered in that new regime, and now all that information is publicly available to this new regime which is free to interpret and use it how they want. Essentially, even though you are okay with the current regime (including its corporations which also have access to said information) having your information, that does not mean that you'll be okay with the next one that could be right around the corner.

Secondly, this statement does not take into account the importance of information in this new era of digital technology. The saying "information is power" is very much true in today's world, especially since the amount of information that is publicly available to everyone is so large. Give someone your full name and they can already find out several facts about you, even things like where you live (and this is simply a random stranger, the capabilities of corporations such as Google and Facebook, and government agencies such as the NSA are way beyond that). If an organization (such as a government or a corporation) were to have information on a person, such as where they are at every moment of the day (via cellphone), where they like to shop (via credit/debit cards), what they like to do in their free time (via social media), who they know (via social media and cellphone), and so much more, then such an organization can essentially both read and control the mind of said person. How? If I see what you're posting, texting, calling about, etc., then I can have a really good idea of what you're thinking, and having that knowledge and a very personal knowledge of you as an individual I can determine what events should occur to manipulate you into doing certain things or thinking a certain way, therefore essentially controlling your behaviour.

This is not something to be taken lightly, and yet many people are. Not because they have a valid reason to be for surveillance, but rather because caring about one's privacy is inconvenient and requires active attention on behalf of the person until they have gotten into the habit of protecting their own information. Therefore it can be said that it is because of laziness. If they truly had reason to be in favor of surveillance then they would not need to repeat the "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear" motto over and over again, and if there is no reason then the opinion is invalid.

EDIT 2016/10/31: A friend of mine pointed out another very good argument to me recently. If you truly believe you have nothing to hide please go to the #dmux channel on Freenode and give us your search queries when searching for porn, how often you search for porn, what sites you usually visit, what kind of porn you watch, etc. You have nothing to hide, right? So why not? Take into account that it's people like us that are looking at this information on the other end, if you feel uncomfortable with us knowing this information then it would be inconsistent to not be with a government, and even less with a company.


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