Monday, May 22, 2006

Champion privacy if you've nothing to hide

Bruce Schneier writing in Wired gets right to the heart of the the surveillance and privacy story.

"The most common retort against privacy advocates -- by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures -- is this line: "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?"

Some clever answers: "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me." "Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition." "Because you might do something wrong with my information." My problem with quips like these -- as right as they are -- is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect...

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide."

William Heath wants to get Bruce to talk to some senior government "officials of good character and intellect who are grappling with this stuff." I wish him luck with that venture and have long suggested it would be a good idea. At the very least we should put a copy of Bruce's book, Beyond Fear, in the hands of those officials and insist they read it. It'll be the best half day education on these issues that they will ever have.

Update: Daniel Solove wonders if there can be a compelling response with widespread appeal to the 'nothing to hide' argument.

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