The folly of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’

Yesterday morning I was interviewed by broadcaster Neil Mitchell on Melbourne’s 3AW. We discussed the proposal to install CCTV cameras in the CBD and I made it clear (the segment begins at 1:34:17) that “CCTV cameras run by the government are a significant invasion of privacy”.

Mitchell doesn’t appear to have a problem with CCTV and he posed a question that comes up time and time again in debates over mass surveillance: if you have nothing to hide, what do you have to fear? I answered that there’s much to fear – we don’t want massive government databases full of images of us going about our lives – but he didn’t seem convinced by the argument from privacy.

It’s interesting just how popular CCTV is. And it’s likely that much of this support is based on similar ideas about the importance of this particular right.

So common is the ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ line that one senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union has come up with a list of six counter arguments:

1. Some people do have something to hide, but not something that the government ought to gain the power to reveal.

2. You may not have anything to hide, but the government may think you do.

3. Are you sure you have nothing to hide?

4. Everybody hides many things even though they’re not wrong.

5. You may not care about hiding it, but you may still be discriminated against because of it.

6. Privacy is about much broader values than just “hiding things.”

I recommend reading the article for full explanations of each point. It’s an excellent summary of why those of us who value privacy think that ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ is sheer folly.


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