nothing to hide
Two proverbs say it best: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ("Who watches the watchers?") and "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.
Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.
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.
This short, 25 page paper covers more than a year's worth of newspaper articles and blog postings. Rarely do we see such a good discourse about a complex topic like privacy. This isn't a sensationalist piece like many articles out there. The author, A Professor Solove, even makes a point not to be sensationalist. I would quote the whole article if I were allowed, it was that good. But for the author's sake and for yours I will just share a few quotes I especially liked.