Sunday, July 22, 2007

Nothing to Hide:

Daniel J. Solove has published an interesting paper on the web called 'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy. Taking a scholarly approach, establishes a rather formal basis for the idea of what it means to “have something to hide.” We're all familiar with situations where a politician excuses abuses of privacy by, say, the FBI or NSA, saying “I've got nothing to hide, and neither do you, unless you're a criminal.” Solove argues that such people are in fact unfairly defining what it means to keep information private, and he develops many scenarios in which an entirely upright person might suffer severely at the hands of a government that is misusing data he would prefer to hide. One of his most memorable ideas is the Kafka argument, that citizens suffer when governments act upon private data they have about us – whether accurate or not – and we have no access to their deliberations or decisions.

If someone ever tells me that he has “nothing to hide,” I plan to ask him for his credit card numbers, his social security number, his email login and password, and how much money he possesses and earns. I'm sure he'll have nothing to hide. But while reading the Solove article, a simple generalization occurred to me, and I think it's important in this discussion:

I have nothing to hide from my faceless federal government. I have nothing to hide from any big company. But I do have much to hide from almost any PERSON I can think of. Show me a human being who works for the government, or for some credit card company, who might have access to all my financial records, and I greatly do not want that person to misuse my data to pay off his or her own debts. I have nothing to hide as long as human beings are not involved.

But we must all realize that, today, people are involved. That's especially true with regard to data collected by our government agencies, which have terrible track records when it comes to securing data bases. We all have something to hide, because otherwise, real people will have too much access to us.

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