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The Nothing-to-Hide Argument – My Essay’s 10th Anniversary

Privacy Surveillance Nothing to Hide Argument

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.”

Nothing to Hide - SoloveThe 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:

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When Do Data Breaches Cause Harm?

 

Harm has become the key issue in data breach cases. During the past 20 years, there have been hundreds of lawsuits over data breaches. In many cases, the plaintiffs have evidence to establish that reasonable care wasn’t used to protect their data. But the cases have often been dismissed because courts conclude that the plaintiffs have not suffered harm as a result of the breach. Some courts are beginning to recognize harm, leading to significant inconsistency and uncertainty in this body of law.

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6 Great TV Series About Privacy and Security

TVIn previous posts, I have listed some of my favorite novels and movies about privacy and security issues.  I don’t want to leave out TV, as there are some great TV series too.

 

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Surveillance and Our Addiction to Exposure

Bernard-Harcourt-Exposed-02-720x340Bernard-Harcourt-ExposedBernard Harcourt’s Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age (Harvard University Press 2015) is an indictment of  our contemporary age of surveillance and exposure — what Harcourt calls “the expository society.” Harcourt passionately deconstructs modern technology-infused society and explains its dark implications with an almost poetic eloquence.

Harcourt begins by critiquing the metaphor of George Orwell’s 1984 to describe the ills of our world today.  In my own previous work, I critiqued this metaphor, arguing that Kafka’s The Trial was a more apt metaphor to capture the powerlessness and vulnerability that people experience as government and businesses construct and use “digital dossiers” about their lives.  Harcourt critiques Orwell in a different manner, arguing that Orwell’s dystopian vision is inapt because it is too drab and gray:

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Can the FBI Force Apple to Write Software to Weaken Its Software?

Privacy Awareness TrainingA dramatic legal battle is taking place that will have dramatic implications for the future of technology, privacy, security, and the extent of government power.  The FBI obtained an order from a magistrate judge to force Apple to develop software to help the FBI break into an encrypted iPhone.

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