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Privacy and the Nothing-to-Hide Argument Morgan Walker Chapin High School

Author Note Morgan Walker, Academic Leadership Academy, Chapin High School. Morgan Walker is still in the Academic Leadership Academy at Chapin High School. This research was not supported by any external funding. Correspondence regarding this paper should be addressed to Morgan Walker at walker2011ala@gmail.com

THE NOTHING-TO-HIDE ARGUMENT Privacy and the Nothing-to-Hide Argument Privacy is essential. It is vital to individuality as well as financial, medical, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, privacy is grossly undervalued today. It is seen as optional and is quickly sacrificed for promises of security in the future. The reason for this is the skewed perception of privacy that many people have acquired. In addition, widespread ignorance about these topics is why proponents of surveillance and data mining have gained such a secure foothold. Introduction Little Brother

In Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008), everyone is a suspected terrorist. Every move is tracked using RFIDs (radio-frequency IDs), credit card transactions, and cameras, and the government can get into anything if they say its to catch a terrorist. However, the data gathered through these anti-terrorism measures is also being used for other things. Peoples secrets are being revealed even though they arent necessarily guilty of any crime, and the information used to expose them wasnt even gathered for that purpose. The government has invaded and will continue to invade our privacy in the same way. The Nothing-to-Hide Argument If you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide. Many people, including countless members of the legislature, support this nothing-to-hide argument. Supposedly, if youre not breaking the law, you shouldnt be opposed to constant surveillance or government access to all of your personal information. "I've got nothing to hide," [NTHers] declare. "Only if you're doing something wrong should you worry, and then you don't deserve to keep it private" (Solove, 2011). Eric Schmidt, former CEO and current executive chairman of Google, agrees as


well, parroting the all-too-common refrain of the NTHers: If you have something that you dont want anyone to know, maybe you shouldnt be doing it in the first place (Newman, 2009). Its scary to think that even the former CEO of Google, the host of most peoples mail service and web browsing, has such little regard for personal privacy. The problem with this argument is that it forces its opponents to debate using the faulty underlying assumptions that privacy is about concealing guilt, and that the only important aspect of privacy is surveillance. This one-sided view of the topic shifts the argument to its terms and uses this unfair advantage to achieve victory. Perception of Privacy The reason the nothing-to-hide argument is so prevalent is the widespread, distorted perception of privacy. The belief that data is an instrument for advancing some other value, and the fact that privacy is sacrificed whenever a matter of national security comes up, results in the rapid deterioration of privacys value. This allows the government to take away our privacy rights without us noticing or caring. Data as Currency Many people believe that data is simply a currency to be traded for innovation (read: a method to pursue corporate interests) and irrelevant in the sense that it could be detrimental to every aspect of peoples security if too much of their information is released. According to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, tighter privacy restrictions would "threaten the lifeblood of the Internet: data." Companies like Facebook and Jigsaw thrive off collecting and selling peoples data. To her, defending corporate interests is more important than the fact that released data could jeopardize peoples security. All that matters is that removing

THE NOTHING-TO-HIDE ARGUMENT data from the information economy would apparently cause innovation to come to a complete halt (Sadowski, 2013). Optionality as Compared to Security The largest problem with privacys current reputation is that it is thrown out the window whenever the words national security are mentioned. In Little Brother, the main characters father states that the Bill of Rights was written before data-mining," as if thats an excuse to allow the government full access to everything (Doctorow, 2008). He seems to think that just because the Constitution doesnt name privacy as an explicit right, it doesnt exist. The framers

of the Constitution didnt bother to name privacy as a right because it was universally accepted at the time. It was completely inconceivable for one not to have it. As data-security expert Bruce Schneier put it, its intrinsic to the concept of liberty (2006). Resulting Issues Data Compilation Many problems occur when the government is allowed access to personal data such as internet browsing history, credit card transactions, or location information. Included in these problems are aggregation, exclusion, secondary use, and distortion, as outlined by Solove (2011). Aggregation. Aggregation is the harvesting of large amounts of seemingly meaningless data. Although the statistics may be useless individually, when combined they become much more telling. This may lead to conclusions that we might wish to conceal because we didnt realize that the information was worth hiding (Solove, 2011). Exclusion. This is preventing people from knowing how their information is used, and keeping them from accessing and correcting errors in that information. Because government data-collection programs involve national security, their existence is often kept secret. But when


individuals are unable to correct errors in their personal data, it becomes harder to find those who are actually doing something wrong because the government has an inaccurate view of peoples actions (Solove, 2011). Secondary use. Secondary use is the exploitation of data, for an unrelated purpose to why it was obtained, without consent of the subject (Solove, 2011). If the system remains the same, allowing administrative subpoenas on good faith, and without laws calling for accountability in data collection, the government can do whatever they deem necessary for national security (Klimas, 2012). This issue is also prevalent in Little Brother, where information is being used to expose people with secrets rather than to find terrorists, which was the original purpose of obtaining that data (Doctorow, 2008). Distortion. This is the failure to paint a complete picture of a person using only their information (Solove, 2011). This often happens because while data can tell the government a lot about a persons activities online, it is not aware of peoples reasons for any of their purchases, website visits, etc. An example of these issues used by Solove was a person who has purchased books on the manufacture of methamphetamine, which causes the government to be suspicious that he is building a meth lab. He is actually writing a novel about a character that makes meth, but the government doesnt know this and places him on federal watch lists and his actions are placed under constant scrutiny (2011). This is an example of aggregation, exclusion, and distortion, which can all lead to serious consequences even when they are not deserved. Error and Incompetence While problems can result from government malevolence and inefficiency in data collection, they can also stem from error and incompetence in the storage of this data. Mistakes

THE NOTHING-TO-HIDE ARGUMENT can be made that cause information to be released, which is another reason that trusting the government with all of your personal data is not a good idea. In addition, the current privacy laws are so fundamentally flawed they do next to nothing to provide protection for our privacy. Disclosure of medical information. Although medical records are more secure with HIPAA than without, it really doesnt protect that much. HIPAA only restricts the sharing of medical information by healthcare providers (this means doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, etc.). It does not apply to anyone else who manages to get ahold of your medical records (Kassner, 2013). There have been 880 reported instances in which medical information was released since

2005 (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2013). Additionally, since people dont even have the right to sue over HIPAA violations, doctors have little incentive to fix their systems and the government doesnt care about fixing medical privacy laws either. Consequences. When the government has access to everything from email and credit card accounts to medical information, even a small breach can result in large amounts of released data. This can result in people using your information to commit credit card, insurance, and other types of fraud as well as stealing your entire identity if they managed to acquire enough information. Someone who gained access to your current location would have the opportunity to stalk you or break into your home. There are endless possibilities of the uses people could find with your data, which is why it must be protected. Self-Development However, although privacy issues mostly stem from data collection, some can originate from surveillance as well. According to scholar Julie Cohen, self-development can be inhibited by lack of privacy; she states that if our behavior is subject to constant surveillance, we can

THE NOTHING-TO-HIDE ARGUMENT change our behaviors and self-perception, possibly even unconsciously. We lose the part of ourselves that exists when no one else is watching (Sadowski, 2013).

Marcus, the main character of Little Brother, feels similarly to Cohen: privacy, he says, is not about doing something shamefulit's about your life belonging to you (Doctorow, 2008). If we are put under incessant surveillance, we lose our individuality, because everything we do is observed and recorded as if were lab rats (Schneier, 2006). Conclusion Privacy is so important because of the negative personal as well as material effects associated with surveillance and data collection. While the nothing-to-hide argument seems well grounded at face value, it gains its power from forcing opponents to debate using its distorted view of privacy, gaining the upper hand due to this unreasonable advantage. Supporters of NTH assume that privacy only matters in the context of surveillance; however, it is so multifaceted that once the argument is broken down and examined from all angles, it simply doesnt stand up. The consequences of allowing the government full permission to spy on us and access our data incontrovertibly outweigh the mostly-empty promises of national security. We must stand up for our privacy, because although most of us have nothing to hide, if we allow our rights to privacy to be taken away any further, theyll all be gone before we know it. As the founding father Ben Franklin once said, Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will lose both and deserve neither.

THE NOTHING-TO-HIDE ARGUMENT References Doctorow, C. (2008). Little brother. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. Kassner, M. (2013, January 7). Your medical records, HIPAA, and the illusion of privacy.

TechRepublic. Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/security/your-medicalrecords-hipaa-and-the-illusion-of-privacy/8869 Klimas, L. (2012, August 28). Is the government's use of administrative subpoenas out of control? The Blaze. Retrieved from http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/08/28/is-thegovernments-use-of-administrative-subpoenas-out-of-control/ Newman, J. (2009, December 11). Google's Schmidt roasted for privacy comments. Network World. Retrieved from http://www.networkworld.com/news/2009/121109-googlesschmidt-roasted-for-privacy.html Perrin, C. (2010, June 18). Why you really should care about privacy. TechRepublic. Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/security/why-you-really-should-care-aboutprivacy/3874 Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. (n.d.). Medical privacy. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Retrieved from https://www.privacyrights.org/Medical-Privacy Sadowski, J. (2013, February 26). Why does privacy matter? One scholar's answer. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/02/why-doesprivacy-matter-one-scholars-answer/273521/ Schneier, B. (2006, May 18). The eternal value of privacy. Wired.com. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securitymatters/2006/05/70886 Solove, D. (2011, May 15). Why privacy matters even if you have 'nothing to hide' The Chronicle Review. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Privacy-MattersEven-if/127461/