A Critique of the “Nothing to Hide” Argument

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

Nothing to Hide Argument

Last year, I wrote a post asking about whether there was a good response to the “nothing to hide” argument:

One of the most common attitudes of those unconcerned about government surveillance or privacy invasions is “I’ve got nothing to hide.” I was talking the issue over one day with a few colleagues in my field, and we all agreed that thus far, those emphasizing the value of privacy had not been able to articulate an answer to the “nothing to hide” argument that would really register with people in the general public.

I received many thoughtful responses.

For a symposium about the philosophy of privacy in San Diego Law Review, I decided to return to the question with a short essay entitled “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy. I’ve posted a draft on SSRN. Here’s the abstract:

In this short essay, written for a symposium in the San Diego Law Review, Professor Daniel Solove examines the “nothing to hide” argument. When asked about government surveillance and data mining, many people respond by declaring: “I’ve got nothing to hide.” 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. The “nothing to hide” argument and its variants are quite prevalent, and thus are worth addressing. In this essay, Solove critiques the “nothing to hide” argument and exposes its faulty underpinnings.

The essay discusses my blog post and some of the comments. In the essay, I apply the theory of privacy I’ve been developing over the years to analyze the issue — in particular, my taxonomy of privacy. Is my response to the “nothing to hide” argument persuasive? I welcome any comments and feedback.

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

If you are interested in privacy and data security issues, there are many great ways Professor Solove can help you stay informed:
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