the Irish for rights

The innocent have nothing to hide?

DNA Carnival image, via Human Rights in IrelandHuman Rights in Ireland‘s superb Blog Carnival on DNA Databases (context | 2010 Bill (pdf) here and here | mass screening | European experience | Australia | Scotland) picks up and amplifies my concerns about DNA privacy. In particular, David O’Dwyer‘s post argues that the common trope that “the Innocent have nothing to fear!” exacerbates “the growing perception of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in society – ‘Us’ the law abiding citizens and ‘Them’, the law breakers, the ‘Barbarians at the gate'” (by no means a uniquely Irish concern). He concludes that

While these laws may seem to be in ‘our’ interest

…There has been sufficient miscarriages of justice in the history of crime in this and in other jurisdictions to indicate a belief that ‘the innocent have nothing to fear’ is not necessarily the whole answer.

McGuinness J –Gilligan v Criminal Assets Bureau [1997] IEHC 106; [1998] 3 IR 185 (26 June 1997) [118].

McGuinness J’s dictum was approved by Hardiman J in the Supreme Court in O’C v DPP [2000] IESC 58 (19 May 2000) [195]. Concerns over the too-easy invocation of the trope have animated previous posts on this blog. As Toby Stevens observed on The Privacy, Identity & Consent Blog:

Debunking a myth: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

… “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is a myth, a fallacy, a trojan horse wheeled out by those who can’t justify their surveillance schemes, databases and privacy invasions. It is an argument that insults intelligent individuals and disregards the reality of building and operating an IT system, a business or even a government. If ever you hear someone at a dinner party crank out this old chestnut, grab your coat, make your apologies, run fast and run far. And as William has said before, I wouldn’t want to be stuck at a dinner party next to someone who has nothing to hide – imagine how dull that would be.

7 Responses to “The innocent have nothing to hide?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Allan Cavanagh, Eoin O'Dell. Eoin O'Dell said: http://tinyurl.com/33gnlqk My new blogpost: The innocent have nothing to hide? […]

  2. Oisín says:

    Great post! I get a shiver every time I hear that old chestnut brought out. It’s worth remembering, however, the the ‘innocent have nothing to hide’ argument enjoys some shameful support in Irish law – it was used in right to silence cases like Heany to justify provisions of the Offences Against the State Acts compelling evidence on penalty of imprisonment. I fear it is the argument that will never go away.

  3. […] sounds suspiciously like the “innocent have nothing to fear” defence, excellently filleted by Eoin […]

  4. […] posts of mine on this topic: The innocent have nothing to hide? | Traffic Data Retention, Irish-style, returns to the legislative agenda | Nothing to […]

  5. Brian says:

    Excellent posted (guided here from a post on the main page). I think too often, people in this country subscribe to the \nothing to hide rule\ without any real consideration of the possible consequences.

    I can only foresee a range of disastrous legislation coming home to roost in years to come. How it will be straightened out is anyone’s guess, but its certainly not going in a direction which I’m happy with. Some will say we should lobby the legislators, well, I say lobby away. Its done me no good down through the years except for a nice collection of historical correspondences from now gone Ministers, including Mr. Michael McDowell now an SC again.

  6. […] recognition in the second editorial that a DNA database raises profound privacy concerns. A modern DNA database may indeed represent a necessary investment in crime detection, but it is also an example of the […]

  7. […] recognition in the second editorial that a DNA database raises profound privacy concerns. A modern DNA database may indeed represent a necessary investment in crime detection, but it is also an example of the […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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