Privacy

Why privacy is important, and having “nothing to hide” is irrelevant

Some of this article is reproduced from one published originally in 2016 for Australian consumption but, it applies equally to most so called western democracies, not least the UK.

The governments of Australia, Germany, the UK and the US are destroying your privacy. Some people don’t see the problem…
“I have nothing to hide, so why should I care?”

It doesn’t matter if you have “nothing to hide”. Privacy is a right granted to individuals that underpins the freedoms of expression, association and assembly; all of which are essential for a free, democratic society.

The statement from some politicians that “if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear” purposefully misframes the whole debate.

This affects all of us. We must care.

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.

– Edward Snowden
Privacy and freedom

Loss of privacy leads to loss of freedom.

Your freedom of expression is threatened by the surveillance of your internet usage – thought patterns and intentions can be extrapolated from your website visits (rightly or wrongly), and the knowledge that you are being surveilled can make you less likely to research a particular topic. You lose that perspective, and your thought can be pushed in one direction as a result. Similarly, when the things you write online, or communicate privately to others, are surveilled, and you self-censor as a result, the rest of us lose your perspective, and the development of further ideas is stifled.

Your freedom of association is threatened by the surveillance of your communications online and by phone, and your freedom of assembly is threatened by the tracking of your location by your mobile phone. Can we afford to risk the benefits of free association, the social change brought by activists and campaigners, or the right to protest?

These freedoms are being eroded, right now. The effects will worsen over time, as each failure to exercise our freedom builds upon the last, and as more people experience the chilling effects.
Aggregation

Bits of information that you might not feel the need to hide can be aggregated into a telling profile, which might include things that you actually do want to conceal.

In the case of data retention in Australia, we have given away our rights to privacy, and now share a constant stream of:

where we go, who we contact and when, and what we do on the internet.

With just a small portion of this data, off-the-shelf software and their own spare time, ABC News readers found Will Ockenden’s home, workplace and parents’ home.

Will was a reporter who volunteered for the resaearch.

The intrusion becomes all the more spectacular when you consider the data across a whole population, the massive budgets of the Five Eyes intelligence agencies, and the constant progress of artificial intelligence and big data analytics.

Your interactions with the world around you can reveal your political and religious beliefs, your desires, sympathies and convictions, and things about yourself that you aren’t even aware of (and they might be wrong too).

Given enough data and time, your behaviour might even be predicted.
Personal chilling effects

When you understand the fullness of the picture that mass surveillance paints of you, you begin to change your behaviour – you avoid exercising certain freedoms.

Loss of privacy leads to loss of freedom.

Your freedom of expression is threatened by the surveillance of your internet usage – thought patterns and intentions can be extrapolated from your website visits (rightly or wrongly), and the knowledge that you are being surveilled can make you less likely to research a particular topic. You lose that perspective, and your thought can be pushed in one direction as a result. Similarly, when the things you write online, or communicate privately to others, are surveilled, and you self-censor as a result, the rest of us lose your perspective, and the development of further ideas is stifled.

“…the people that say that, that privacy isn’t really important,  don’t actually believe it. And the way that you know that they don’t actually believe it, is that while they say with their words “privacy doesn’t matter,” with their actions they take all kinds of steps to safeguard their privacy. They put passwords on their email and their social media accounts, they put locks on their bedroom and bathroom doors. All steps designed to prevent other people from entering what they consider their private realm and knowing what it is that they don’t want other people to know.” 

As has been stated elsewhere on this website, your privacy if surrendered too easily not only opens you up to all manner of personal abuse by governments and others. It also is valuable finacially to organisations that hold the data, electronic or otherwise.