Nothing to hide?

Image from Concurring OpinionsJust posted on SSRN, an essay by Daniel J Solove entitled “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy. From the abstract:

… 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.

From the conclusion:

understanding privacy as a pluralistic conception reveals that we are often talking past each other when discussing privacy issues. By focusing more specifically on the related problems under the rubric of “privacy,� we can better address each problem rather than ignore or conflate them. The “nothing to hide� argument speaks to some problems, but not to others. It represents a singular and narrow way of conceiving of privacy, and it wins by excluding consideration of the other problems often raised in government surveillance and data mining programs. When engaged with directly, the “nothing to hide� argument can ensnare, for it forces the debate to focus on its narrow understanding of privacy. But when confronted with the plurality of privacy problems implicated by government data collection and use beyond surveillance and disclosure, the “nothing to hide� argument, in the end, has nothing to say.

On Concurring Opinions, Solove asks: “Is my response to the “nothing to hide” argument persuasive? I welcome any comments and feedback.”

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