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If You Have Nothing to Hide…

Any effort to rein in government surveillance will invariably be met by some opponent claiming, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” But when you test these pro-surveillance apologists, you quickly learn they care more about privacy than they’re letting on.

I’ve been involved in local efforts to address surveillance in my hometown of Lexington, Ky. In the course of my work, I did an open records request to the Lexington Police Department to get information on what types of surveillance technology the agency owns and operates. The city eventually sued me in an effort to hide documents relating to “mobile surveillance cameras.” You can read more about the suit HERE.

The ACLU of Kentucky has agreed to represent me in the case, and it has garnered a great deal of local media interest. That means I’ve been visiting a lot of mainstream news sites. Sometimes I can’t help but peruse the comments. Every single time, I’ve run across somebody rolling out the, “If you don’t have anything to hide…” argument.

So, I decided to test these people’s mettle. I went on Facebook Live and issued a challenge. I asked anybody who believes in the, “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” mantra to send me their email address and password, along with their internet browsing history for the last month. I even provided an email for them to send it to.

So far, I haven’t had any takers.

And I won’t.

That’s because, at some level, everybody values their privacy. That’s why we put doors on our bathrooms, curtains on our windows, and we don’t post our web browsing history for the whole world to read. Maybe we really don’t have anything to hide. But the bottom line is our private lives aren’t anybody’s damn business – and that includes the government’s.

Maintaining our privacy – our personal space – is an important part of our humanness. It helps distinguish us as autonomous, individuals. Glenn Greenwald warned about the danger of erasing privacy.

“When we allow a society to exist in which we’re subject to constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.”

It’s not that the “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear crowd,” doesn’t believe in privacy. They just don’t think the government will really pay any attention to them. They think that because they they’re not doing anything “wrong” (and they’re often mistaken in that belief), they will remain safely anonymous. If they knew the camera was pointing in their window, they’d sing a different tune.

But we are being watched all the time. And we are getting closer and closer to a world where the government literally is looking into our living rooms. The problem is, by the time these people wake up to it, it will probably be too late.