In response to government surveillance or massive data gathering, many people say that there’s nothing to worry about. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” they declare. “The only people who should worry are those who are doing something immoral or illegal.”
The nothing-to-hide argument is ubiquitous. This is why I wrote an essay about it 10 years ago called “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide,” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy, 44 San Diego Law Review 745 (2007). It was a short law review piece, one that I thought would be read by only a few people. But to my surprise, this essay really resonated with many people, and it received an unusually high number of downloads for a law review essay. I later expanded the ideas in the essay into a book: Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security (Yale University Press 2011).
This year is the 10th anniversary of the piece. A lot has happened between then and now. Not too long before I wrote my essay, there were revelations of illegal NSA surveillance. A significant percentage of the public supported the NSA surveillance, and the nothing-to-hide argument was trotted out again and again. This was the climate in which I wrote the essay.
Later on, in 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was engaging in extensive surveillance far beyond its legal authority. Snowden declared: “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.” This time, there was a significantly large percentage of the public that didn’t side with the NSA but instead demanded scrutiny and accountability.
Nevertheless, the nothing-to-hide argument is far from vanquished. There will always be a need for citizens to demand accountability and oversight of government surveillance, or else we will gradually slide into a more dystopian world.
Here are a few short excerpts from my nothing-to-hide essay:
I am now offering the full text of my book The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (Yale University Press 2007) online for FREE download.
I am now offering the full text of my book The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (NYU Press 2004) online for FREE download.
I was fortunate to see James Graham’s incisive play “Privacy” this past Sunday at the Public Theater in New York City. The play is a witty and immensely engaging examination of all the data being collected about us and being assembled into digital dossiers. Technology is adeptly woven into the play. At many points during the production, audience members are asked to use their smart phones. The script is entertaining and intelligent. There is never a dull moment, and I was laughing throughout. Continue Reading
I am pleased to announce that Alan Westin’s classic work, Privacy and Freedom, is now back in print. Originally published in 1967, Privacy and Freedom had an enormous influence in shaping the discourse on privacy in the 1970s and beyond, when the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) were developed.
The book contains a short introduction by me. I am truly honored to be introducing such a great and important work. When I began researching and writing about privacy in the late 1990s, I kept coming across citations to Westin’s book, and I was surprised that it was no longer in print. I tracked down a used copy, which wasn’t as easy to do as today. What impressed me most about the book was that it explored the meaning and value of privacy in a rich and interdisciplinary way.
A very brief excerpt from my intro:
At the core of the book is one of the most enduring discussions of the definition and value of privacy. Privacy is a very complex concept, and scholars and others have struggled for centuries to define it and articulate its value. Privacy and Freedom contains one of the most sophisticated, interdisciplinary, and insightful discussions of privacy ever written. Westin weaves together philosophy, sociology, psychology, and other disciplines to explain what privacy is and why we should protect it.
I was fortunate to get to know Alan Westin, as I began my teaching career at Seton Hall Law School in Newark, New Jersey, and Alan lived and worked nearby. I had several lunches with him, and we continued our friendship when I left to teach at George Washington University Law School. Alan was kind, generous, and very thoughtful. He was passionate about ideas. I miss him greatly.
So it is a true joy to see his book live on in print once again.
Here’s the blurb from the publisher: