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I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy (2014) (ssrn.com)
210 points by rahuldottech 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments



Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden#2015


Also, one of the hardest-hitting quotes from his book, Permanent Record:

"There is, simply, no way, to ignore privacy. Because a citizenry’s freedoms are interdependent, to surrender your own privacy is really to surrender everyone’s. You might choose to give it up out of convenience, or under the popular pretext that privacy is only required by those who have something to hide. But saying that you don’t need or want privacy because you have nothing to hide is to assume that no one should have, or could have to hide anything – including their immigration status, unemployment history, financial history, and health records. You’re assuming that no one, including yourself, might object to revealing to anyone information about their religious beliefs, political affiliations and sexual activities, as casually as some choose to reveal their movie and music tastes and reading preferences.

Ultimately, saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. Or that you don’t care about freedom of the press because you don’t like to read. Or that you don’t care about freedom of religion because you don’t believe in God. Or that you don’t care about the freedom to peaceably assemble because you’re a lazy, antisocial agoraphobe. Just because this or that freedom might not have meaning to you today doesn’t mean that that it doesn’t or won’t have meaning tomorrow, to you, or to your neighbor – or to the crowds of principled dissidents I was following on my phone who were protesting halfway across the planet, hoping to gain just a fraction of the freedom that my country was busily dismantling."

― Edward Snowden, Permanent Record, p. 208

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/71198843-permanent-rec...


Adding to that: by giving up your freedom (of X) you may be giving it up for those around you. We interact with people and information about others can be gleaned by what we do.

Privacy-conscious people may not use Gmail because they don't like what Google is doing, but if everyone you communicate with has an @gmail.com address, you're being 'compromised' every time you send a message to them.


Some people really have no problem revealing those to their "tribe" and it's unfathomable to them that members of their "tribe" would have bad intentions. These people form a large part of the voting population.


Doesn’t look like many are reading the actual article. It sets up the “nothing to hide” argument as the following, which is quite a bit more difficult to rebut:

“ Therefore, in a more compelling form than is often expressed in popular discourse, the nothing to hide argument proceeds as follows: The NSA surveillance, data mining, or other government information- gathering programs will result in the disclosure of particular pieces of information to a few government officials, or perhaps only to government computers. This very limited disclosure of the particular information involved is not likely to be threatening to the privacy of law-abiding citizens. Only those who are engaged in illegal activities have a reason to hide this information. Although there may be some cases in which the information might be sensitive or embarrassing to law-abiding citizens, the limited disclosure lessens the threat to privacy. Moreover, the security interest in detecting, investigating, and preventing terrorist attacks is very high and outweighs whatever minimal or moderate privacy interests law-abiding citizens may have in these particular pieces of information.

Cast in this manner, the nothing to hide argument is a formidable one.”


Yes, in a perfect dream world where governments and agencies are made of perfect, valiant, James Bond kinda characters who fight only for the good causes and are never tempted to misuse the power. In reality, it's obvious that such setup potentially empowers small group of people to with equal ease control and manipulate individuals as well as large groups of people, companies and organizations by means of blackmail and access to insider informations. And the fact how easy and how extremely lucrative that could be just makes it more realistic that someone will try to do that. Lets set aside how tempting it is for most people not to snoop on their exes or current partners, or to run background checks on their daughters new boyfriend, imagine having access to info that some big company is about to default, or that some other company is on the brick of discovering something super exciting and their stocks are about to skyrocket. How many people would realistically resist the urge to monetize that info? How many political parties wouldn't want to know some dirty secret on their opponents? How many ambitious people would just let someone else get promoted even though they know some dirt on them?

Further, since the only reason people would accept this type of surveillance is fear, agencies and governments are directly incentivized by it to prolong and augment the threat, as that directly benefits them and allows them to keep the position of power, to keep their jobs and budgets. Which is less than ideal setup, as it is out of balance by design. As soon as other institutions of the system weaken this will have a tendency to spiral into a fight for grabbing as much power as possible, and then potentially some sort of dictatorship, as has happened in so many societies that had strong security agencies and weak political system.


I'd like to turn the conversation around and question the prioritization of surveillance of the people over the transparency of politicians' communications, sources of funding, who they're meeting with and all such related activities they perform in a role servicing and paid for by the public.

Only once this is addressed should we move down the priority list to "blanket communication and behavioural surveillance of the citizenry."

The potential for harm to a country and it's citizens caused by political decisions is exponentially greater than any act by an individual or group with no political power. (and whilst this point is arguable and weighted with emotion, this includes 9/11).


>Moreover, the security interest in detecting, investigating, and preventing terrorist attacks is very high and outweighs whatever minimal or moderate privacy interests law-abiding citizens may have in these particular pieces of information.

No thank you, I'd give up my privacy if it could help prevent heart attacks, cancer or maybe even automobile crashes but terrorism compared to the above pale in comparison when you consider the number of deaths. Literally giving up one of the fundamentals the country was founded on for something so minor is clearly a reach of power for the government to control the population under the guise of keeping them secure.

https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2019/05/Causes-of-death-i...

https://ourworldindata.org/terrorism


It's not as formidable as it seems, once you question the premise that perfect enforcement of the laws is a desirable goal. Where, for instance, would the pressure to overturn anti-sodomy statutes come from if it were possible to monitor everyone's illicit sexual activity and pre-emptively embarrass/imprison them to prevent them from coordinating to agitate for their rights? You can replace this example with any ill-conceived outdated law of your choosing; the argument is politics-agnostic and the existence of hundreds of possible examples to draw from illustrates that ossifying our current code by making it possible to perfectly track dissenters is not a great idea for a dynamic society.


> Cast in this manner, the nothing to hide argument is a formidable one.

No. It's still the same old weak argument. "This surveillance will never be used for the wrong reasons and any level of incidental damage to innocents is acceptable, as long as we achieve our goal of preventing people from doing a narrow definition of the wrong thing."

The flaws are this.

(1) not only is there no definition of "the wrong reasons" ("only those who are engaged in illegal activities"), the definition can change, and experience has show that such surveillance data inevitably gets used for purposes outside of the original limited intent. Such primises are not worth the water in which they are writ.

(2) The only acceptable level of incidental damage to innocent parties is zero.

(3) Surveillance is often a form of terrorism. It's a well-documented historic fact (thanks, Stazi, for you predilection for recordkeeping). Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


Super easy to rebut by noting that “metadata” reveals the nature of personal connections, legality of certain kinds of personal connections or public associations have proven to be an area the government changes its mind about, and has proven willing to take actions on that destroy lives.

Tomorrow’s moral majority coupled with a total information awareness permanent record and a representative (of the majority) government? You don’t even need much imagination.


A link to direct PDF: https://www.cs.drexel.edu/~greenie/privacy/solove.pdf

@dang you might want to edit the URL to this


"Give me six lines written by the most honest man in the world, and I will find enough in them to hang him."


The truth relies on vulnerability and is often self incriminating; there are those who would use this information to further their own agendas at the expense of the transparently or naively honest


This does not make the point you're thinking it does.


How do you know what he is thinking?


Context of course.

Since he posted it in this thread, he should obviously thinks it makes a point relevant to privacy.

But the quote is not about privacy. "Give me six lines" just means that anything said/written by someone could be misconstrued against them, not just their private communications.

(Of course it would also apply to things communicated in private, and perhaps even more so since one would say even more damning things there. But it's not meant to be a warning about them, but about how anyone can something something that can be used against them, privately or not).


>But it's not meant to be a warning about [private communication], but about how anyone can something something that can be used against them, privately or not

Okay, the internet was created for military communications. So, with your logic, you should have a problem with it being used to power eCommerce, pornography, YouTube, Facebook and hacker news.

This ain't literature class.


>Okay, the internet was created for military communications. So, with your logic, you should have a problem with it being used to power eCommerce, pornography, YouTube, Facebook and hacker news.

Not with "my logic", but with the logic of some strawman, who claimed something really unrelated to my point.

I didn't say that "nothing can't be used outside of its original stated purpose".

I said that a specific quote about how anybody can find some damning thing in what others have wrote/said to attack them with, is not the same as a quote about privacy.

That is, it's intented message not:

"It's good to keep your writings/letters/etc private because else someone might find stuff in them to use against you"

but:

"I -as a skilled manipulator- can take any random stuff wrote/said by even the most innocent man and it against them to make them appear guilty".


>I said that a specific quote about how anybody can FIND some damning thing in what others have wrote/said to attack them with, is not the same as a quote about privacy

The act of FINDING anything one has said/written is privacy related.

>I -as a skilled manipulator- can take any random stuff wrote/said by even the most innocent man and it against them to make them appear guilty".

Good point. Let's put the quote in context. Gestapo, Nazi Germany's secret police is where this quote supposedly originated. They had a country-wide spy network to monitor what people said.

Data manipulation can't happen without data. Without the collection and storing of conversations, breaking into people's homes, intercepting mails/telephone/telegraph correspondence, no manipulation of the "words" could have happened.

The point is - A skilled manipulator won't find anything to hang me unless he's invading my privacy in the first place. (Assuming I don't give public speeches or write publicly)


>Gestapo, Nazi Germany's secret police is where this quote supposedly originated. They had a country-wide spy network to monitor what people said.

The quote is attributed to cardinal Richelieu, and whether it's his or not, exists for at least 2 centuries, so before the Gestapo and modern surveillance.

>Data manipulation can't happen without data.

Which is neither here, nor there. I agree that privacy is important, and that surveillance offers all kinds of opportunities for that.

My point is that the quote wasn't intended originally as a comment on that, and it is out of place related to that, because it intends to emphasize the inverse: you don't need "data", just any 6 lines will do.

>The point is - A skilled manipulator won't find anything to hang me unless he's invading my privacy in the first place.

That's a point one can make. It might even be a point I agree with.

It's not however the point the quote was making. And it's only that which I'm pointing here, not the merits or not of privacy/surveillance.

The quote was making the inverse point: "Who cares for data and deep secrets, and notebooks, and spying, and so on. I just need any old 6 lines from someone and can have them hanged".

Might be too arrogant for Richelieu (or whoever said it) to think so. Might not even be realistic. But even metaphorically, it's purpose was to convey:

"Anything someone says can be used and misconstrued against them".


> could

“Can and will”


It's in the surveillance data.


This "nothing to hide" discussions always remind me of this great essay "We should all have something to hide": https://moxie.org/blog/we-should-all-have-something-to-hide/


I find this article underwhelming. It does not really build a strong case. I personally, am person about as interesting or uninteresting as a few billion other people in the world, or as a few hundred million people in the United States. Privacy advocates tend to paint a picture like in the movies "Conspiracy Theory" or "Enemy of the State": if you find yourself in the crosshairs of the state, you're in trouble. Well, here's the thing: I'm not Mel Gibson, and I'm not Will Smith. The chance of the state finding my person interesting is fairly reduced. If someone wants to make my life miserable, there are probably a few hundred guys working for Google who can read my every email on my gmail account, and who can probably even impersonate me on the internet. There are scores of other tech guys working in some bank who can see my every bank transaction, or every credit card payment, or engineers at Amazon who can see the history of my purchases. Pretty much only those who don't want can't find my physical address, or my phone number, or other things. Given all that, the fact that the NSA can do all these things too, well I, for one, am not losing a lot of sleep over this.


It's ironic that the "global electronic village" turns out to be just like a real village -- there's very little privacy.


The most important thing I've learned from watching Cia and FBI shills being interviewed on CNBC is that in order to preserve our rights we must first be willing to surrender them.

Security and privacy are not diametrically opposed concepts. They are directly dependent on one another. You can't have one without the other.


This makes no sense. Both the paragraphs and the sentences contradict each other while repeating cliches from past discussions on this topic. It reads like a markov bot account. You might want to explain what you mean better.


According to the nothing to hide argument, there is no threat to privacy unless the government uncovers unlawful activity, in which case a person has no legitimate justification to claim that it remain private.

This is a surprisingly common sentiment in HN when it relates to financial privacy.

Laws that criminalize financial privacy, aka KYC/AML laws, are justified with precisely this "nothing to hide" argument geared to money laundering and other financial crimes, and said laws are quite popular with the tech intelligentsia.


Conclusion from the pdf:

Whether explicit or not, conceptions of privacy underpin nearly every argument made about privacy, even the common quip “I’ve got nothing to hide.” As I have sought to demonstrate in this essay, understanding privacy as a pluralistic conception reveals that we are often talking past each other when discussing privacy issues. By focusing more specifically on the related problems under the rubric of “privacy,” we can better address each problem rather than ignore or conflate them. The “nothing to hide” argument speaks to some problems, but not to others. It represents a singular and narrow way of conceiving of privacy, and it wins by excluding consideration of the other problems often raised in government surveillance and data mining programs. When engaged with directly, the “nothing to hide” argument can ensnare, for it forces the debate to focus on its narrow understanding of privacy. But when confronted with the plurality of privacy problems implicated by government data collection and use beyond surveillance and disclosure, the “nothing to hide” argument, in the end, has nothing to say.


"Nothing to hide" does not mean "nothing private". "Nothing to hide" means "no unlawful action". It's another thing alltogether from having private things.


The way I heard it expressed was "there's a difference between secrecy and privacy; you know exactly what I'm doing in the bathroom but I still don't want you watching."


But how do you separate the two?


The right to privacy is the right to decide what you want to share or not.


And with whom.


In my opinion the nothing to hide argument is valid in a personal basis, but not in a policy making basis. I am against the surveillance of citizens in the name of security, and I actively support the EFF in their attempts to stop it, but I do not have a sticker covering my webcam because if someone at NSA is spending his afternoons watching me working, and maybe putting the finger in my nose from time to time, I sincerely don't care.


Limiting the conversation to what is seen on a webcam doesn’t come close to covering the scope of what could happen.

Let’s say your screen is captured as well. And sometimes that screen will contain personal and private information of friends and family who might care.

It is not your call to decide for them whether their information should be put at risk or not by an organization that has proved itself capable of leaking like a sieve.

You could argue that your devices contain no names of friends or pictures or contact info or messages of any sort with anyone. OK, but that would be pretty unusual.

Saying you don’t care is like driving drunk on an empty road with passengers in the car. You may not care about whether you die, but you have passengers. Your caring about yourself or not isn’t the issue.


I think you misunderstood my comment (being honest, it was not very well redacted). I do not disagree with anything you said at all, on the contrary. What I mean is precisely that a lack of personal reasons to keep your privacy is not a good reason to not push for privacy policies. I am totally against screen capturing, as I am against surveillance using laptop cameras or phone microphones, or public cameras capturing my face.

However, even although I care about this and actively oppose these practices, I don't cover my face when I live my home, for example, and I don't think (some people may disagree) that I should. Of course, once this affect more people, it is not my choice to not care, and I will do everything possible to keep other people privacy.


Exactly the opposite nihilistic enough that I am waiting to be caught and thrown in prison (deep web sins)


Sure you have: your SSN, your password, your mother's maiden name, you first pet's name, your relationship with your wife/kids/mother. It's no one else's business.


"I have done nothing wrong" => "I have nothing to hide" iff everyone is good and always will be good in the future and never punish me unless I do something wrong.


And iff the definition of good will never change.


A problematic assumption, as we're already seeing with the ongoing stream of old-Twitter-post scandals.

But we have always been at war with Eastasia.


Won't open PDF without me signing up. :-(



I thought it has something to do with JS or referrer, but in a web browser with those it leads to a 404 error page.


Edit: oops, can't link directly to pdf :)


Nope


If I am to be surveilled anyway, perhaps they can ensure my protection from threats to my privacy?

After all I assume they're doing all this for our protection, not to generate crimes?


I've got nothing to show, therefore no reason to be surveilled.


saying is showing, showing is saying. You've got nothing to say?


tl;dr NSA surveillance could have chilling effects (no evidence either way) and the author has concerns about oversight and accountability.

Pretty unconvincing IMO. The real issue is selective enforcement, e.g. cops who bomb a house to smithereens in pursuit of a suspect but then have sovereign immunity so don't have any consequences. And similarly city officials tend to throw the book of regulations at people they don't like.


I agree, the information that can be gathered and probably has been gathered would constitute an invalid search/seizure for that information to have been got only a few decades ago. Now the information is there for the taking and so whatever personal power struggle with the government is way under gunned. Any one can be squashed at the whim. And ultimately there needs to be a strong press/codes to air/catch the unjust application of the power.




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