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Privacy and the "Nothing To Hide" Argument 728

privacyprof writes "One of the most common responses of those unconcerned about government surveillance or privacy invasions is '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 is quite prevalent. Is there a way to respond to this argument that would really register with people in the general public? In a short essay, 'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy, Professor Daniel Solove takes on the 'nothing to hide' argument and exposes its faulty underpinnings." At the base of the fallacy, as Bruce Schneier has noted, is the "faulty premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong."
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Privacy and the "Nothing To Hide" Argument

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:13PM (#19818217)
    Pull down your pants.
  • by jshriverWVU ( 810740 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:14PM (#19818233)
    IF you enjoy your privacy with "nothing to hide" but generally just like being a hermit of sorts, or just living your life without a bunch of statistics attached to you, that should be reason enough. As an American isn't it a right not to be forced into situations that would divulge information about ourselves? Not because "there's something to hide" just that a person man want to live a peaceful life without numbers, statistics, and data mining attacking your personal peace.
  • by Blnky ( 35330 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:16PM (#19818257)
    I have always taken the stance of: "If I have done nothing wrong why do I not deserve the right of privacy?"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:16PM (#19818263)
    I don't know about anyone else here, but you could take it to the logical extreme. "If you have nothing to hide, then you're undoubtedly okay with letting the government install cameras in your bedroom, or bathroom." That usually works well to quiet that argument....
  • just ask... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by locust ( 6639 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:17PM (#19818273)
    the jews. They had nothing to hide at all.
  • by mdm-adph ( 1030332 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:18PM (#19818287)

    Or, perhaps a bit more plainly, "Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power..."
    It's very hard to convince someone of this, though, when it's their party in power.

    Especially when they think their elected leader was largely chosen by God.

    I hope I'm not being too specific here.
  • illegal vs ethical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluprint ( 557000 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:20PM (#19818331) Homepage
    Off-hand, the main problem with that argument is that it assumes that legal behavior and ethical/moral behavior are exactly the same.

    If the government is watching, they are obviously looking for anything they don't like. This could be generally illegal behavior, or behavior that is threatening to the continued operation of that institution.

    In either case, if you accept monitoring because "you have nothing to hide" you assume that the standards of what should be allowed and whether the institution should continue to exist should rest with the government. To put it another way, you assume they have perfect judgement in regard to what should be happening in regard to monitored behavior of citizens.

    So (for example), maybe the government should be overthrown (because it does some badness such that it deserves to be disolved). Obviously any existing government that needs to be overthrown isn't going to support that notion. By targeting the government's ability to monitor, we better allow for the possibility that a government that is no longer serving the needs of its people might get overthrown (I'm assuming, for the purposes of this example, that "being overthrown" is probably necessary on some regular basis).
  • by Jack9 ( 11421 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:22PM (#19818347)
    Privacy protects us from being abused by not just government, but other people (and organizations).

    How many Senators have available social security numbers, cell phone numbers, daily date planners, daughter's after school program schedules, etc. It's not just about government, when there's so many more people likely to take advantage of private information.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:22PM (#19818349) given to the bad cops too.

  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:24PM (#19818379)

    Or, perhaps a bit more plainly, "Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power..."
    It's very hard to convince someone of this, though, when it's their party in power. Especially when they think their elected leader was largely chosen by God.
    And given that their selected leader was chosen by God, then any abuses by those in power are conveniently justified -- especially any abuses necessary to keep them in power.
  • The Useful Idiot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sitnalta ( 1051230 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:25PM (#19818391)
    Who says you have to be doing something illegal to be persecuted? So to answer the question "I've got nothing to hide" my response would be "Don't worry, they'll find something."
  • by loteck ( 533317 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:26PM (#19818403) Homepage
    Here's a real cute 'saying', and it's the only one that matters:

    "The right of the people to be secure in their person, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

    In the US, this is the foundation of privacy. It is a mandate to those who govern from the people who allow them to govern. If you really need to ask why, your ignorance of history is so staggeringly complete that it can only be attributed to being negligently willful.

  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:26PM (#19818409) Homepage

    My response to people who say "You've got nothing to hide, what's the problem?" is this:

    Well then, you'll have no objection to having the transaction register of your checking account and credit cards published daily in the newspaper, will you. Nor a record of your phone calls, incoming and outgoing. Or having all your e-mail, personal as well as work, automatically copied to your boss, co-workers and spouse. After all, you've got nothing to hide, right?

    It's not a matter of having nothing to hide. Even people with nothing to hide nonetheless have a lot of things that they don't want broadcast to the world. It's called one's personal business. A really good example is buying your wife an anniversary gift. There's absolutely nothing to hide there, but you still don't want her finding out about it until you give it to her. There's many things in life that're nothing to hide in the sense the "nothing to hide" crowd is using the phrase, but that nonetheless you want to keep private (at least from all but a selected few).

  • by Blue Stone ( 582566 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:26PM (#19818411) Homepage Journal
    The one I like: "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." - Cardinal Richelieu
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:29PM (#19818457) Journal
    Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition.

    I'm in the minority because I like the Bush administration, but I do have to say that Ashcroft pissed me off when they imprisoned Tommy Chong. For the longest time anyone could buy drug paraphernalia in head shops. There was no law against it. Then suddenly Tommy Chong gets arrested ex post facto. They changed the interpretation of anti-drug laws on the fly so they imprisoned a man who did nothing illegal, and had no chance to stop doing it once they declared it illegal. If I lived in California, I woulda been out every day of his imprisonment holding up a protest sign. I'm sure a lot of people would have been there too, but then the government would have just cracked down on them hard because they'd assume they were drug users. The people knew this and never showed up for a rally.
  • by bigtrike ( 904535 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:31PM (#19818483)
    If the government has not done any illegal spying on US citizens, why must the records remain sealed?
  • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:33PM (#19818507) Journal
    'Even if it's benign'

    Thats just it, we don't all agree on what is benign. I don't trust the government to decide for me and quite frankly don't consider the government to be benign. I'm not merely afraid of a change in colors in the future, the decision making government of today is stocked almost exclusively with dirty, corrupt, lying, weasels.

  • Re:Bargaining (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jjh37997 ( 456473 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:37PM (#19818553) Homepage
    Sure... as long as I can know the history and stats of all the cars he's trying to sell me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:39PM (#19818587)
    I, as a non-American citizen, sincerely hope I can enjoy the same rights when I visit your, or any other country.
    By the chosen words, you almost sound like somebody who is not too concerned about the (lack of) privacy of visitors to the US.
  • Just because... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lordvalrole ( 886029 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:40PM (#19818603)
    you have nothing to hide doesn't mean something can't get used against you in the future. People who say that "they have nothing to hide" either they are lying or don't think about what they are saying. Laws can change and laws are different in every state, in every country, and in every situation. Just saying that you have nothing to hide doesn't mean that it can't be used against you 40 years from now. Take a look at celebs and politicians. People dig and dig until they find something that is controversial and that can be used against them even though they did it 10-20+ years ago.

    I am sorry but the least people know about me the better. I don't want people knowing everything I do or don't do. I don't want the government to use whatever data mining they have gathered about me and use that later. We can't stop terrorists by data mining. We can't stop terrorism because it is abstract. Start taking away any more freedoms in America it will start pissing more people off and homebrew terrorism will start happening.

    Unless we can make the government completely crystal clear and see exactly what they do behind closed doors...they aren't welcomed into mine.

    Who knew that minority report could feel so real these days. Americans could care less about these topics. As long as they have American Idol and entertainment...they could care less about our government and our freedoms. One of the best quotes from a movie and it holds true today.

    Gracchus: Fear and wonder, a powerful combination.
    Gaius: You really think people are going to be seduced by that?
    Gracchus: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it's the sand of the coliseum. He'll bring them death - and they will love him for it.
  • Easy Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by raehl ( 609729 ) <raehl311&yahoo,com> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:41PM (#19818609) Homepage
    Identity Theft. EVERYONE has something to hide. The fewer people that have access to your private information, the harder it is for people to steal from you.

    The more people, even people working for the government, that have access to your information, the easier it is for you to be turned into a victim. And in the case of things like identity theft, the less you THINK you have to hide, the more attractive of a target you probably are. (Upstanding citizens probably have good credit to exploit.)
  • by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:44PM (#19818645)
    The government outsources everything now. They (or one of the companies they hire) could collect up all of your email and web surfing logs and send it to credit agencies, insurance companies, even your employer.

    What if you emailed your friend that you had a crummy day at work, and the next day, your employer waves a copy of it in your face and says "you're fired".

    What if you surfed around looking for alternatives to your current insurance, and your carrier decides to drop you because you're not a loyal customer?

    They could do it all in the name of 'maximizing shareholder value'.

  • Lame article ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Syncerus ( 213609 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:45PM (#19818659)
    Well, I downloaded the PDF and waded my way through the turgid prose. The sad truth is that the subject is very interesting and timely. Unfortunately, the author really has nothing insightful to say on the subject. The 25 pages of text are clunky and directly focused on academic publication. He writes a great deal, but doesn't SAY anything. How can he say so little with so many words?

    The only thing that I took from his publication is that he doesn't like the Bush Administration. That's fine with me; everyone is entitled to his own opinion. My problem is that this issue as such is far greater than any current administration. It's one of the fundamental questions about the relationship between the individual and the state, and deserves to be treated as an issue of profound significance.

    If this is the best justification of our right to privacy, then we're in serious trouble.
  • by morari ( 1080535 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:50PM (#19818729) Journal

    I'm in the minority because I like the Bush administration
    Now don't think that way, there are plenty of naive people all throughout America.
  • by rumblin'rabbit ( 711865 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:51PM (#19818749) Journal
    To articulate what you just said...

    I consider the most important reason for privacy to be simple human dignity.

    We all deserve a chance to live our lives with self-respect, and that is impossible when we cannot conduct our personal affairs with discretion. Being forced to disclose every detail of one's life is degrading to almost any human being.
  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:54PM (#19818775) Homepage

    Though it's true that there are good reasons for privacy even if you have nothing to hide, I also wonder if we might want privacy even for those who have something to hide.

    I mean, often the whole thing gets framed around issues like terrorism or murder or child porn, and in those cases it's easy to let your emotions carry you away and think that perhaps the ends justify the means. Obviously, we want those crimes to be exposed and the perpetrator to be caught. On the other hand, we've all done something wrong at some point. We all have skeletons in our closets. Maybe there are some young people reading this who think, "I don't have any secrets!" Well wait. Sooner or later, something will happen in your life that you'll end up being ashamed of, you'll commit some act that saddens you to think about, or you'll do something that you just don't want people to know about.

    These things might not be crimes. They might be that you have some dirty little fetish, that you cheated on your spouse, or that you screwed-over one of your friends when he/she really needed you. It might just be that you've been a bit greedy or harsh to people who didn't deserve it. Or it might even be that you were in a difficult situation, didn't do anything wrong, but the facts taken out of context could be twisted to make you look bad.

    There are plenty of things that are legal that can ruin reputations, destroy relationships, embarrass people publicly, and generally ruin lives. Often, there's no positive purpose in bringing these things to light.

    People sometimes fail to realize that civilization runs on forgiveness, forgetfulness, and ignorance. If everyone's skeletons were suddenly dragged into the light, it'd be very difficult to maintain work relationships and personal relationships. If everyone were suddenly punished for everything they'd done wrong, no one would escape a whipping. The way our system works is that a crime must be noticeable, someone must be hurt, and the police and prosecutors need to believe that punishing the offense is worthy of time, effort, money, and perhaps other risks. It's for the best. A perfect judicial system which punished all offenders fully would catch everyone at some point. We'd all be offenders, criminals, and subject to public ridicule at various points in our lives.

    In the end, such a system would be harmful and oppressive to our society, while the whole point of the judicial system is to help our society maintain stability by reducing the need for vigilante justice/vengence. I'm afraid that, as strange as it may seem, it's better that some of the guilty are not found or prosecuted, and that some crimes go pretty well unnoticed. There's a reason why courts find people "not guilty" of a particular crime, rather than "innocent" in general. It's far better that many of our bad decisions, indiscretions, and unfortunate situations can be stowed away from prying eyes. We ought to maintain an attitude of faith in men, that all men should be treated as innocent until proven otherwise, in spite of the fact that no one is truly innocent.

  • Re:just ask... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:54PM (#19818779)
    And not too long afterwards they also had nowhere to hide.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:55PM (#19818783)
    > I'm in the minority because I like the Bush administration, but I do have to say that Ashcroft pissed me off when they imprisoned Tommy Chong. For the longest time anyone could buy drug paraphernalia in head shops. There was no law against it. Then suddenly Tommy Chong gets arrested ex post facto. They changed the interpretation of anti-drug laws on the fly so they imprisoned a man who did nothing illegal, and had no chance to stop doing it once they declared it illegal.

    "Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against - then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens' What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."

    - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1957

    And for those who don't like Rand, how about this quote, from a guy who preceded Rand by 17 years, and just might have been qualified to have an opinion on jurisprudence, seeing as how it was his entire career and stuff.

    "With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him."

    - Robert H. Jackson [], Attorney General (1940-1941), Supreme Court Justice (1948-1954), from a speech given in 1940

  • by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:56PM (#19818803)
    If a right of privacy is obsolete because technology allows listening from a distance, than a right to life was made obsolete years ago because high-powered rifles can kill you from a distance.

    It would be very foolish to abandon a right every time a technology makes it more difficult to protect.
  • Ahem. This all makes it sound very rhetorical or academic.

    "Oh, if we give them power, they might be corrupt"... you sound paranoid, you sound like you might be hiding something. Try this...

    This is not about what they "might do", its about what they HAVE DONE.

    It is well known fact that before the requirement that warrants be issued and that there was review of wiretaps, that the FBI wiretapped none other than the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Are we to believe that the good reverend, one of the heroic leaders of the civil rights movement was a dangerous criminal and needed to be watched?

    Forget the theoretical, we need not look far to find real tangible cases of abuse of power. It is not the ability of power to be abused, it is the fact that it has been abused. The watchers have already been proven untrustworthy. There is more than ample real indisputable evidence.

    Sure we can understand why a person in power in the 60s would have felt the need to watch the good reverend doctor. However, doesn't that make all the more certain the case that it is folly to allow their whims to direct such powers without real oversight?

  • by moeinvt ( 851793 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:00PM (#19818847)
    "Privacy is a responsibility... viewing it as a right only puts you at a disadvantage"

    When we talk about our "Rights" in terms of those inalienable freedoms that our Constitutional Republic is founded on, we are specifically talking about prohibitions on the GOVERNMENT. Technology does not render our Rights "obsolete". Just because the government "can" spy on us doesn't mean that we have to give them permission to do it.

    "Privacy" is my responsibility in the sense that I need to take certain precautions to protect things like my personal financial information, or trade secrets that I don't want to share with competitors. Privacy is my RIGHT, in the sense that I should NOT need to protect myself against unwarranted government snooping.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:07PM (#19818931)
    "The right of the people to be secure in their person, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

    That's their loophole right there in bold face. They just continually dilute the definition of "unreasonable". Search warrents were to burdensome, so the patriot act gives us NSLs ( tter) which require no judicial oversight. Similarly for wiretaps. If you question it, then you're the enemy. You support the terrorists. Which, of course, is now grounds to wiretap you as well.

    The statements I've made in this post are probably more then enough to justify an NSL to my ISP & /. to figure out just who this AC really is. I clearly need to be watched.

  • Re:just ask... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:07PM (#19818947)
    Just ask the jews. They had nothing to hide at all.

    And not too long afterwards they also had nowhere to hide.

    I'm not Jewish, as it happens ... but those two lines ought to give anyone pause. Especially if you're in the "I've nothing to hide so I'm safe" camp.
  • by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:10PM (#19818991) Homepage
    I have nothing to hide if every member and employee of the government is entirely faithful to the laws and to reasonable ethical norms, and would never abuse the powers of justice for political ends. Given the recent thorough abuse of the Department of Justice for political ends, coupled with my reasonable belief that high members of our current government most likely are literally guilty of treason, and will be without restraint in avoiding just consequences for their treasons ... yeah, I have nothing to hide. There's no reason they would accuse anyone politically like me of "siding with the terrorists" now, is there?
  • Re:just ask... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:24PM (#19819183) Homepage
    Indeed. I cannot agree more. When people people who make the rules, change the rules, ANYONE can be a criminal.
  • by taskiss ( 94652 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:29PM (#19819223)
    Why are there HUGE numbers of people posting their lives on-line, photos on facebook, opinions on slashdot, etc, etc, etc.

    You're giving it away by the barrel full and whine about a thimbleful?
  • by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:29PM (#19819231) Homepage
    "I'm in the minority because I like the Bush administration"

    So YOU'RE the one. :-)

    But honestly, for the life of me, I can't think of a reason any group has not to dislike what Bush has done. Liberals hate him by default, he's no conservative, he's done nothing for the libertarians...and he went to war without planning for the inevitable eventuality that the spineless half of the country would stab him in the back when the going got tough.

    I'll even give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's a well-intentioned person who's just a bit too optimistic, and that screws things up for him.

    But given that, what is there to like? Are you a recently expatriated Iraqi in the U.S. with a Mexican illegal immigrant employer who suddenly needed a Medicare prescription drug plan?
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:32PM (#19819251)
    You have nothing to hide. Yet. You sure that your sexual preference will be legal forever? Are you sure that the information you're freely sharing with your friends has not been patented and thus you're infringing? Can you be certain that laws won't change and suddenly what you've been doing forever is suddenly "illegal"?

    Find out their hobby and start constructing around it.

    They like fishing? So, are you sure your lure isn't found to be "cruel to animals", or that the sink you use isn't going to be seen as environmentally threatening? Or that fishing isn't outlawed altogether because your enjoyment doesn't matter concerning how cruel it is to the fish?

    It's model trains? Say, are you aware that the information you love to download about those tracks belong to the company that made them, and that they can come after you for infringing their copyright? And the buildings you use for your almost-like-real miniature towns, they look incredibly well suited as a three dimensional map for a terror attack. You sure that "model train club" isn't just a front?

    They're into traveling? So you don't mind the feds to know where you go, that's fine... but you're aware that the political climate can change in many parts of this world quickly, right? Say, you traveled a lot to Gernericstan, and they just recently turned into another Afghanistan... care to tell us what exactly you did every time you went there?

    At the very least the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" attitude can get you into a lot of unpleasant situations. Laws change, and not to the "better". They're more and more constricting, less and less freedom to do what you please is left, and sooner or later there will be a law that makes you a target, because what you used to do is suddenly very illegal. Smoking is on the verge of being outlawed in some countries. Would you like to be known as a heavy smoker? It's quite addictive, so the feds will KNOW that you don't simply quit, or that it's very, very hard to. They will want to watch you, just in case you fall back into your old habit.

    And this can happen in many ways. Nobody just lives to work, people have their pastimes and hobbies. It can happen that your hobby is suddenly outlawed.

    And, just to get Godwin into this posting somehow, the first (that I know about) to come up with the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" spin was Joseph Goebbels. If you don't know the guy, look him up. And ponder for a moment what this means.

    If complete surveillance is in place, there is no chance to overthrow an oppressive regime. Any kind of dissent will be immediately identified and eliminated. By allowing it to happen, you throw yourself to the whims of the state. Essentially, you're giving up your liberty. If you trust your country and your government, most of all, if you trust it not to change in a way you wouldn't enjoy, it's no problem.

    For me it is a problem. I cannot predict the future.
  • by fastest fascist ( 1086001 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:34PM (#19819275)

    Technology does not render our Rights "obsolete". Just because the government "can" spy on us doesn't mean that we have to give them permission to do it.
    No, but do you expect them to stop doing it if you ask them to? Our societies are very much hierarchical, we DO have a clear ruling class, and they do things as they please. Your chances at having privacy are directly dictated by your ability to make it difficult or impossible to watch your actions. Governments can't be trusted not to use technology available to them - they have well-established branches whose very job is precisely to conduct surveillance in secret, and if you think the distinction between foreign and domestic threats to their power makes any difference to them, think a bit harder.
  • by jfclavette ( 961511 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:38PM (#19819307)
    Like copyright ?
  • Re:Bogus (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:42PM (#19819351) Homepage Journal
    He explains privacy well

    No, he really doesn't. He doesn't even understand it. For instance, he says "If you shove me, you are not leaving me alone. You may be harming me, but it is not a problem of privacy." It is a problem of privacy; one person's right to shove another is strictly limited by the idea of permission, that is, the existence of an inherent boundary, and the permission - or lack thereof - to cross that boundary. This is the same concept as putting a letter in an envelope. There is an inherent boundary there, and you do not have permission to cross it. These boundaries, existing in many social, legal, financial and physical circumstances, are all direct manifestations of privacy. The constitution brings the concept to the table in unflinching fashion: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." There it is again. Boundaries. Personal, property, records, possessions. Privacy is a facet of liberty; the real problem here is that as far as the government concerned, liberty is just a quaint old word and the constitution an annoyance at most.

  • In hiding (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:47PM (#19819393) Homepage Journal

    At the base of the fallacy, as Bruce Schneier has noted, is the "faulty premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong."
    Or put it another way: locking the bathroom door is not an admission of guilt!
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:48PM (#19819401) Homepage
    It's very hard to convince someone of this, though, when it's their party in power.

    Especially when they think their elected leader was largely chosen by God.

    I hope I'm not being too specific here.

    Hehe. But there's a good way to get around it -- point out the possibility of the other party being in power in the future!

    That's what Republican Senator Larry Craig did on the Rush Limbaugh show. Craig was promoting a bill to add more civil rights safeguards and actual oversight into the USAPATRIOT Act. Rush was asking why such a thing was necessary, and was Craig claiming that civil liberties had been violated by George Bush's administration, and did he have any proof that it had happened. Rather than delving into that trap of pre-prepared talking point responses, Larry Craig pulled a wonderful switch. He said no, he thought Bush was doing a great job respecting liberties, but what if Hillary Clinton became the next President?!

    Like magic, Rush was stopped in his tracks. He couldn't possibly argue that Hillary Clinton, Card-Carrying-Commie could be trusted to respect civil liberties based simply on her word! Coming from Rush, that'd practically be like an endorsement for her candidacy! No, suddenly the terrible spectre of a dictatorial Executive run amok with too much power was palpable.

    This was a while ago, when the probability of Democratic president didn't seem quite so high. Now I think it should be relatively easy to get the my-party-is-fine-your-party-is-evil Republican types to see the danger. I should hope the same people on the Democrat side should be able to see the truth of the argument quite clearly already. But to actually get results, they'd both have to agree at the same time, and I'm not sure that will happen.
  • by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:48PM (#19819403) Homepage
    Actually, MLK Jr. was a criminal, according to the laws on the books at the time. That was kind of the whole point of civil disobedience. Most people today believe that what he did was morally right, but legally it most assuredly was not.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:50PM (#19819431) Journal
    I think it's pretty hard to disagree with both these arguments, but it begs another question:

    Who among us thinks the government should be able to secretly spy on us without either permission or reporting to a court? As we've learned in the last few days, as far as the government is concerned, there is no record of secret wiretaps because, hey, they're secret. So the subject of the surveillance is never allowed to see whether or not they have been watched/recorded/wiretapped (this is exactly the argument made by the Bush Administration in Federal Court).

    There's this bit in the Constitution about anybody who is accused having the right to face their accuser and the evidence against them in open court. Who among us does not believe this is a good thing? And if the government says that the citizen that was wiretapped is a terrorist, but doesn't have to show any evidence that the target is a terrorist, even to a secret court, is there any way secret wiretapping or surveillance can ever be Constitutional? Is it even important to pay attention to the Constitution any more in an age of a "terrorist threat"?

    There are those here who proclaim support of the Bush Administration's secret wiretapping program, so I'd like to hear their answers to these questions. Since the users of Slashdot are mainly people who work very specifically with the technology that is used and is affected by these issues, it's important for us to have this discussion. Many of us will, in the coming years, directly deal with this issue from one side or the other.
  • by blitziod ( 591194 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:54PM (#19819481)
    how many people REALLY are affected by murder, terror, and child porn? I mean outside of the lost freedoms. Sure WTC was a tragedy BUT in terms of other wars, we are relatively safe. Nobody thinks Benlain is going to invade the USA and round us all up into camps. Murder is rarely (esp murder by strangers not spouse, relative, crime partner)committed against the GENERAL public. Cameras at stop lights are not gonna stop gang hits OR spousal murder. The gangs will just break the camera's 1st ( or avoid them somehow) and the spouse will likely kill his/her spouse inside. Child porn, according to reliable statistics is not all that common. Commercial child porn even less so. I study in teh 90's showed most widely distributed child porn ( used in prosicutions) to have been produced LEGALLY in sweden before the laws went into effect banning it. They are busting guys for trading the same old images from th 70's. Those children are my age now...Serial pedophiles( the ones who molest strange children, not relitives ) are fairly rare also. As is stranger child murder or abduction. Do not get me wrong, all the things are bad, shocking horrible acts. They are just also rare and not worth spending resources to go after to the degree that we would be with cameras and such. The impact will be too low and the cost in freedom too great
  • Re:just ask... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:00PM (#19819537)
    They don't need to change the rules any longer. They haven't had to for over a hundred years. So many human activities have been classified as criminal in our society the government (any government, Federal, State, local) can nail you any time they choose, if they want to make the effort. Just being targeted, even if you ultimately win in court (assuming you have your day in court) is punitive for most people, given the cost of justice today. If we ever want to return to something resembling a "free" country, we're going to have to toss out reams of law.

    Truly a sad state of affairs. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if my comments here on Slashdot are eventually used against me in some way. A lot of us have posted stuff on this site that might be considered "subversive" in some context, particularly the anti-intellectual-property rants that pop up regularly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:03PM (#19819557)
    Better that a thousand evil men go free than a single innocent man hang.
  • by yankeessuck ( 644423 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:04PM (#19819573)
    See McCarthyism for an concrete example of prosecution/persecution after the fact. The next witchhunt is always potentially around the corner and one can never be sure what it'll be about.
  • Geese ... Gander (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brian_d_w ( 793870 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:13PM (#19819639)
    Shouldn't the same logic apply to the government? Why is it ok for the feds to make everything secret? They must be doing illegal things to justify their instance on secrecy for official proceedings. If I have no right to privacy, why do they?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:14PM (#19819647)
    On the other hand, if everything and everyone is totally and unequivocally exposed, society itself may eventually adjust for the better. Such mass exposure may cause people to reevaluate their presumptions of what is acceptable and what is not. Confronting issues in the open is how they get resolved. Of course, the problem is that there will be not be any equal and unqualified exposure. Everything will be filtered through a comparatively small group of people in charge and the information will be used as they see fit.
  • Things get simpler (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:18PM (#19819677) Homepage Journal
    if you have a definition of privacy. But the definition of privacy is very, very tricky. In practice, privacy gathers together a wide variety of things that seem to be connected, but no in an obvious way.

    It could be people listening in on your phone calls.

    It could be people working to ruin your reputation or to spoil a relationship you have with somebody, by selectively chosen but roughly true stories (false light).

    It could be somebody secretly watching you.

    It could be somebody openly dogging you as you go from public place to public place.

    It could be somebody looking over your shoulder as you conduct a bank transaction.

    It could be your neighbor's spotlight shining in your bedroom window at 3AM.

    It could be somebody failing to uphold a responsibility they have to treat information they hold about you in confidence.

    After years of thinking about this, I have come to this conclusion: all these things are in one way or another crimes against autonomy. Even the neighbor's spotlight it a crime against your right to direct your own attention. As a result, I came up with this definition (which I describe further in a blog entry []):

    Privacy is the right of an individual or group to be free from unreasonable interference in the conduct of their affairs or in their thoughts.

    This covers an important point: privacy is not just about being "left alone". It is about being able to engage with others without third parties (like the government, your boss, or your next door neighbor) sticking their nose in where it doesn't belong.

    So, the idea behind "You have nothing to hide" is really much, much more sinister than it sounds. It implies, in effect, that you are nobody, at least when it comes to making decisions for yourself. It is not for anybody else to decide what you should or should not hide.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:21PM (#19819695) Homepage Journal

    The entire concept of privacy is based around concealing "wrongs"; that is to say, keeping from public view what would be embarrassing, damaging or otherwise socially unacceptable.

    If this were not so, there would be no need for privacy.

    What's the URL to the webcam in your bathroom? Oh, yeah. That lecherous 80-year-old down the street called. He'd like your teenage daughter's school schedule. If you don't want telemarketers calling you at three in the morning, then why did you buy a telephone? Oh, and would you please email your updated bank account information to; they can't seem to get at your bank account since you changed the account number. By the way, you can't work here because you have a history of carpal tunnel syndrome; I downloaded your medical records from the Internet. Oh, and I borrowed your car. I took the liberty of writing down the code number and making my own set of keys. Hope you don't mind me having that number.

    Yes, some of those things you can protect yourself, but it is often necessary to provide that information to other people. Your babysitter might need your daughter's schedule to know when to pick her up. You might have to give out your phone number so others can reach you. (You do have friends, right?) You might need to give the bank account number for direct deposit of your paycheck. You might need to release your medical history to an insurance company or to another doctor when your previous doctor retires. You might even need to give that code number to the car dealer because you lost a set of car keys.

    We can't always control our private information, and it is for that reason that we have privacy laws---not to be a complete safeguard against people stupidly failing to protect their private information, but to provide reasonable limitations on businesses and government when that information must be provided to them for some legitimate purpose. To claim that privacy laws are no longer useful is naive even for a Slashdot troll.

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:24PM (#19819733) Homepage

    I'm not sure if you think you're disagreeing with me, but that was included in my thinking. It's easy to get a skewed perspective when you imagine extreme crimes, but extreme crimes are rare. Also, if the crimes are extreme enough (murders, rapists, terrorists) then the crimes are probably going to get attention by law enforcement anyway, even without ubiquitous surveillance. If some kind of "all-seeing eye" run by the government would catch criminals and wrong-doers, it would mostly catch people doing things that are minor and perhaps even innocuous. People would be caught peeing on the sidewalk late at night, speeding, downloading copyrighted material and breaking the DMCA. They'd get caught for sodomy in the places where sodomy is still illegal. An 18 year old is having sex with a 17 year old in a jurisdiction where that's illegal. You'd catch some kids shoplifting.

    Other that that, you'd probably get quite a lot of good blackmail material. This guy is cheating on this woman while she's the one who poops on the floor at work. Some other guy picks his nose and eats it, and some rich woman spends all her money on herself while her estranged husband and kids have very little. There might be lots of information to lord over people, and a lot of ammunition to use against political opponents. Someone might want to run for office or stage political protest to fight injustice, only to find their credibility ruined because once, 20 years ago, he told a racist joke or said something sympathetic to communists. It might not be so damaging except that his opponent is a powerful government official who was able to hunt down an actual recording and leak it to the press.

    Maybe you think all this information is good to have stored somewhere, but I think it's better to just let these facts slide out of history and be forgotten.

  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:26PM (#19819753) Homepage

    Like copyright ?
    Despite what the name may lead you to believe, copyright isn't a right, it's a restriction of rights.
  • by mkosmo ( 768069 ) * <> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:34PM (#19819835) Homepage
    The people are stupid. Why would you tell them anything?
  • by netruner ( 588721 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:42PM (#19819887)
    While this does illustrate an example of a criminal gaming the system, it also lends itself to another point:

    If they can do it to a scumbag, they can do it to you too.
  • by Flunitrazepam ( 664690 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:00PM (#19820047) Journal
    Newsgroups: alt.privacy.clipper,sci.crypt
    Subject: A Parable.
    References: <> <>
    Distribution: usa
    Organization: Partnership for an America Free Drug (Scott Miller (TechCom)) writes:
    >Stikes me that all this concern over the government's ability
    >to eavesdrop is a little overblown... what can't they do today?
    >My understanding is that they already can tap, listen, get access
    >exc. to our phone lines, bank records, etc. etc again.

    Well, they can't listen in on much of mine, since I already use
    cryptography for much of my electronic mail, and will start using it
    for my telephony as soon as practical.

    However, allow me to tell a parable.

    There was once a far away land called Ruritania, and in Ruritania
    there was a strange phenonmenon -- all the trees that grew in
    Ruritainia were transparent. Now, in the days when people had lived in
    mud huts, this had not been a problem, but now high-tech wood
    technology had been developed, and in the new age of wood, everyone in
    Ruritania found that their homes were all 100% see through. Now, until
    this point, no one ever thought of allowing the police to spy on
    someone's home, but the new technology made this tempting. This being
    a civilized country, however, warrants were required to use binoculars
    and watch someone in their home. The police, taking advantage of this,
    would get warrants to use binoculars and peer in to see what was going
    on. Occassionally, they would use binoculars without a warrant, but
    everyone pretended that this didn't happen.

    One day, a smart man invented paint -- and if you painted your house,
    suddenly the police couldn't watch all your actions at will. Things
    would go back to the way they were in the old age -- completely

    Indignant, the state decided to try to require that all homes have
    video cameras installed in every nook and cranny. "After all", they
    said, "with this new development crime could run rampant. Installing
    video cameras doesn't mean that the police get any new capability --
    they are just keeping the old one."

    A wise man pointed out that citizens were not obligated to make the
    lives of the police easy, that the police had survived all through the
    mud hut age without being able to watch the citizens at will, and that
    Ruritania was a civilized country where not everything that was
    expedient was permitted. For instance, in a neighboring country, it
    had been discovered that torture was an extremely effective way to
    solve crimes. Ruritania had banned this practice in spite of its
    expedience. Indeed, "why have warrants at all", he asked, "if we are
    interested only in expedience?"

    A famous paint technologist, Dorothy Quisling, intervened however. She
    noted that people might take photographs of children masturbating
    should the new paint technology be widely deployed without safeguards,
    and the law was passed.

    Soon it was discovered that some citizens would cover their mouths
    while speaking to each other, thus preventing the police from reading
    their lips through the video cameras. This had to be prevented, the
    police said. After all, it was preventing them from conducting their
    lawful surveilance. The wise man pointed out that the police had never
    before been allowed to listen in on people's homes, but Dorothy
    Quisling pointed out that people might use this new invention of
    covering their mouths with veils to discuss the kidnapping and
    mutilation of children. No one in the legislature wanted to be accused
    of being in favor of mutilating children, but then again, no one
    wanted to interfere in people's rights to wear what they liked, so a
    compromise was reached whereby all homes were installed with
    microphones in each room to accompany the video cameras. The wise man
    lamented few if any child mutilations had ever been solv
  • by AncientPC ( 951874 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:01PM (#19820053)

    Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition.
    In the 1920 the US census added a harmless new field: nationality. Two decades later this information was used to round up citizens into German and Japanese internment camps during WW2.
  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:18PM (#19820175)

    That's not the same as making it illegal to have done something and then charging someone for having done it. It would be ex post facto if they passed that law and then sent a felon up for having owned a gun last week. That's just a change in the law.

    Smoking is no longer permitted in restaurants in California. It's the same kind of thing. People don't get to do that anymore. Felons don't get to own guns anymore.
    How is passing a law to the effect that members of the set of people who have at some time committed a given class of crime are to be deprived of some right or privilege not effectively increasing, after the fact, the punishment associated with that crime? You may frame the issue differently -- but it is nonetheless effectively additional punishment for a previously-committed crime.

    To take an extreme, consider a law which prohibits those guilty of computer crimes from using the Internet. By no means is it unheard of for avoiding Internet use to be a probation term for those convicted of such crimes -- but to legislatively extend such a prohibition to all of those who have committed such crimes regardless of whether they have completed that probationary period is effectively to indefinitely extend the period of their sentences, every much so as it would be an ex post facto imposition of house arrest for the legislature to craft a law which (on a forward-looking basis) makes it illegal for those who previously committed a given class of crimes to leave their homes.
  • "God's" work? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:24PM (#19820203)

    I honestly do disagree. While many of his underlings don't share his beliefs, Bush is a zealot who really does think he's doing God's work. His religious convictions can't really legitimately be called "Christian", except in the term's broadest sense, but he thinks every bomb he has dropped, every bullet he has fired, is part of a pure and noble cause.

    Whatever happened to "Thou shalt not kill"? Many more have been killed under Bush's orders than all of those killed from bin Ladin's orders. And didn't he stand up in front of the world claiming Saddam had WMDs? Despite waiting I have yet to see the first WMD.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:44PM (#19820365) Homepage

    Well, I downloaded the PDF and waded my way through the turgid prose. The sad truth is that the subject is very interesting and timely. Unfortunately, the author really has nothing insightful to say on the subject. The 25 pages of text are clunky and directly focused on academic publication. He writes a great deal, but doesn't SAY anything. How can he say so little with so many words?

    Precisely. The article summary claims that Solove's essay "exposes the faulty underpinnings of the "I have nothing to hide" arguement", for my money it singularly fails to do so. (Except in the context of the complex and opaque theoretical philosophical universe he creates in the paper.) He misses the point (to my mind) by a country mile - there are no 'underpinnings' to the argument. It is a (if I may borrow a term) Platonic arguement. He weakens how own case by diving off into the philosophical and theoretical rather than adressing the issue head on.

    The only thing that I took from his publication is that he doesn't like the Bush Administration. That's fine with me; everyone is entitled to his own opinion. My problem is that this issue as such is far greater than any current administration. It's one of the fundamental questions about the relationship between the individual and the state, and deserves to be treated as an issue of profound significance.

    Both Solove and Schneier have both allowed their political dogma to become the dominant force in their writings. You see the same thing here in many of the Slashdot replies - most of them hare off into tinfoil hat conspiracy land, and few analyzing the quality of the thinking. (Mostly because this kind of essay preaches to the Slashdot choir, largely an uncritical lot so long as you agree with the Hivemind.)
  • by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:49PM (#19820403)
    You make a good point.
    An even better question is about taking away their right to vote, especially considering that some felonies could easily be considered political crimes, eg smoking a joint in the privacy of your home. Once convicted you can never vote to change the possibly unjust law.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:57PM (#19820489) Journal

    Supporters of secret wiretapping aren't the sorts of people to be reading /., so I doubt that you will get a response.

    Oh, they're reading. We've all seen them here, complaining about us dirty hippies who think the Bush Administration may have crossed the line with their extra-Constitutional claims and assertions of the power of the "Unitary Executive".

    Whether they'll respond is a different question, though. It's tough to support secret wiretapping, even when a mighty, courageous war-president is doing the wiretapping.
  • by mr_matticus ( 928346 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:01PM (#19820527)
    No it's not. Copyright is for the creator (as, logically, it should be, since it's their private property and copyright is one of a number of tools designed to get people to share their property with society [not their contemporaries, but society itself, so immediate benefits are not meant to be realized]). It's a restriction (and a partial, temporary one) on the other half. All laws restrict someone from something. If they didn't, what would they accomplish?
  • Re:whatever (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:03PM (#19820535) Journal
    Contrary to what most homosexuals would have you believe, it is possible to both find male on male relations disgusting AND be confident in your own sexuality.

    Personally, I couldn't care less about what others with hormone deficiencies do. But I don't especially enjoy seeing male forms clothed let alone nude. There are comparable views. A greasy pile of feces, slugs, cockroaches, etc. I'd rather not surround myself with these unappealing things.

  • by Mattcelt ( 454751 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:11PM (#19820565)
    No, O'Reilly. (Sorry, I just couldn't resist.)

    Here's something I wrote for my site [] a while ago. I also posted it to a similar discussion on /. [] previously.

    Quoth below:
    ["If you haven't done anything wrong, what do you have to hide?"

    Ever heard that one? I work in information security, so I have heard it more than my fair share. I've always hated that reasoning, because I am a little bit paranoid by nature, something which serves me very well in my profession. So my standard response to people who have asked that question near me has been "because I'm paranoid." But that doesn't usually help, since most people who would ask that question see paranoia as a bad thing to begin with. So for a long time I've been trying to come up with a valid, reasoned, and intelligent answer which shoots the holes in the flawed logic that need to be there.

    And someone unknowingly provided me with just that answer today. In a conversation about hunting, somebody posted this about prey animals and hunters:
    "Yeah! Hunters don't kill the *innocent* animals - they look for the shifty-eyed ones that are probably the criminal element of their species!"
    but in a brilliant (and very funny) retort, someone else said:
    "If the're not guilty, why are they running?"

    Suddenly it made sense, that nagging thing in the back of my head. The logical reason why a reasonable dose of paranoia is healthy. Because it's one thing to be afraid of the TRUTH. People who commit murder or otherwise deprive others of their Natural Rights are afraid of the TRUTH, because it is the light of TRUTH that will help bring them to justice.

    But it's another thing entirely to be afraid of hunters. And all too often, the hunters are the ones proclaiming to be looking for TRUTH. But they are more concerned with removing any obstactles to finding the TRUTH, even when that means bulldozing over people's rights (the right to privacy, the right to anonymity) in their quest for it. And sadly, these people often cannot tell the difference between the appearance of TRUTH and TRUTH itself. And these, the ones who are so convinced they have found the TRUTH that they stop looking for it, are some of the worst oppressors of Natural Rights the world has ever known.

    They are the hunters, and it is right and good for the prey to be afraid of the hunters, and to run away from them. Do not be fooled when a hunter says "why are you running from me if you have nothing to hide?" Because having something to hide is not the only reason to be hiding something.]
  • by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:21PM (#19820619) Homepage
    ...where you take what someone says, apply their words to a slightly different context, then make something that was said in innocence into something that is socially embarrassing? I've played both sides of that game from the time I was a teenager, and when you are just goofing off with friends, it's all in fun. Someone turns red and gets flustered, then everything they say to clear up what they really meant only digs the hole deeper.

    We've all played that game, and we all know how easy it can be to string someone up with their own words when the context has been subtlety altered. Now imagine that it's not your friends trying to embarrass you for fun, but it's a prosecutor and he's trying to send you to the deepest, darkest hole he can find. What you said and what you did that got recorded in some computer database may be perfectly innocent, but that doesn't mean someone sufficiently motivated -- or paranoid -- can't twist your actions into something that appears very sinister to twelve of your peers. *That's* why privacy is important.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:34PM (#19820705)

    I prefer to think of him as a brawling frat boy. But who do you want standing up for you when the shit hits the fan?

    Many Americans are ashamed of this 'frat boy' image and think they could do better. Furthermore, when the shit hits the fan, as you say, he spends countless billions of *our* dollars on attacking an unrelated country and murdering hundreds of thousands of their civilians. Since you ask who I want standing up for me, I'd prefer someone without a party or personal agenda getting muddled up in with the administration of the richest and most powerful nation on Earth. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people think Bush is 'cooler' than the other candidates were, and thus is representing their own coolness by proxy. There's a difference between being cool and doing something well.

  • by darjen ( 879890 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:52PM (#19820847)

    If they can do it to a scumbag, they can do it to you too.
    In a similar vein, I sure hope the people who profess the "nothing to hide" argument never get wrongfully accused some day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:57PM (#19820883)
    How about this retort:

    I don't need my privacy: but you do.

    When I choose to keep something about myself private, I do so not for my own convenience, but for yours. There are things I choose to keep private about myself because if I were to disclose some of them to you without disclosing all of them to you, a misleading picture of myself would be presented. You would be better off knowing that you did not know than you would be thinking that you do when you don't. And no matter how smart you are, there's no way any of you could handle knowing all of it.

    Consider the following (all true) information about myself you may be able to gain through simple observation:

    • I wash my hands 20 times a day.
    • I eat the same food for breakfast every day. I eat a different food for lunch, but the same lunch every day. Dinner too.
    • I refuse to eat anything offered by anyone else, ever.

    Have you diagnosed me as suffering from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), paranoid schizophrenia, or some other mental illness yet? Should you fear me? Or suggest treatment? Would you trust me to care for your children?

    Now let me add one more piece of information you didn't have before:

    • I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic. I test my blood glucose (sugar) levels by finger stick about every 2 hours, per doctor's orders, meaning I test about 10 times per day. I wash my hands both before and after each test (total 20 times per day).

    Suddenly the mental illness you were so certain of a minute ago doesn't fit, and my behaviors becomes completely understandable. But that only becomes apparent when you have the additional information. It's too bad you can't keep track of everything about everyone. That cubemate who's always popping pills? Maybe he is just getting high on company time, or maybe those pain killers are a legally prescribed and necessary treatment for terminal cancer.

    And those mexicans looking for day jobs may be illegal immigrants, or maybe they're legal.

    The fundamental point the nothing to hide crew always gets wrong is presuming that more knowledge leads to less questions. It doesn't.

    A thought experiment shows this most clearly. Imagine a self-contained society consisting only of people matching the following descriptions:

    • Everyone is the society agrees they have no need for their own privacy. In other words, none of them cares to keep anything about themselves private.
    • No one in the society has any need to invade anyone elses privacy. In other words, none of them cares if everyone else keeps everything private about themselves.

    Clearly such a society would be the most favorable one to those who promote the elimination of all privacy. But could such a society be made to work? I submit it could not. Such a society would be constantly tripping over itself for things each person is supposed to know but cannot possible keep track of. Every time a birthday gets missed, there would be no excuse of "I didn't know", it would become "I didn't care". Everyone would be deemed responsible to keep track of everyone elses nut allergies, meeting appointments, personal business contacts, etc.

    Even now I wonder when the surveilled public of Great Britain is going to put two-and-two together and start wondering why, with all the privacy invasive technologies already deployed, they still can't pull muggers, rioters, and drug dealers off the streets.

    I wonder why the Bush administration hasn't already used their Total Information Awareness assets to figure out weeks in advance that gas supplies are gonna get tight, forcing prices up, and respond accordingly. Or why, when they already know (thanks to the NSA) which U.S. companies are talking to which discount Chineese dog food importers, we have to hear the recalls from the manufacturers. Don't they already know who bought the tainted grain?

  • by flewp ( 458359 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @10:16PM (#19821015)
    Around the corner? I'd say it is already here, and instead of witches or communists, the target is terrorists and others deemed "anti-American" or "unpatriotic".
  • Re:Flip Side (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @10:20PM (#19821021) Journal
    I think there are two parts to the "halo effect", and they likely operate in different proportions in different people. First is the fear of punishment -- most of the people you refer to do not feel that their actions are really wrong (or else they wouldn't do them) -- they fear the consequences of getting caught. The second is that the patrol car may remind them of their behavior, which they actually do feel is wrong, but "forgot" about that -- the external moral compass of the patrol car awakens their internal moral compass. You may observe this when the patrol car turns off, and a portion of the speeders do not resume their terrifying race.

    Why is this relevant to privacy? Because among the people doing immoral things out there, some may come to the realization that their behavior is "wrong" in some sense because they are forced to come to terms with the risks of getting caught. In other words, some people are in denial about (or are just ignoring) the immorality of their actions.

    All that said, I still believe invading somone's privacy is a piss-poor way to help them see their actions for what they are. Also, I think the people who respond in this fashion are a small minority; the fear of punishment is a much bigger motivator for most people to cease immoral actions.

    One last comment on this topic, and it has to do with people who believe that moral codes are handed down from $AUTHORITY -- these are often the people who would act immorally if they were not told what action was moral or not. It's sad to say that most of our lawmakers, IMO, are of this breed -- which is why morality is legislated in the US.
  • by senatorpjt ( 709879 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @10:40PM (#19821155)

    hen they're tracking a suspect by looking at credit card purchase activity, should they have to send an agent over to the card center to go through a paper file, or should they be able to subpoena that info and get it instantly in electronic format?
    The harder it is for them to get the records, the less likely they are to do it for frivolous reasons.
  • by WhiplashII ( 542766 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @10:59PM (#19821287) Homepage Journal
    To me, this is the only acceptable reason for privacy. It is the same reason that individuals have unalienable rights to own guns. If we ever get to where we can't destroy the government by force, then government will drift towards dictatorship. If we have guns, we can take the government back when it goes to far - but without privacy, those guns cannot organize an effective resistance.

    So we need privacy just like we need guns, to keep the government honest. It is expensive, in lives lost to criminals and similar, just like gun ownership. But it is the only reason the government will not become a dictatorship.
  • by mr_matticus ( 928346 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @11:24PM (#19821431)
    Shakespeare had a tumultuous history with money. He died broke. In any case, artists in the classical sense sold their works once. Only the wealthiest of wealthy people could afford to commission them, and they were kept in private collections. Government got into the game in the 1700s to bring art to the people, by spreading the enormous cost of a custom piece of art across many people buying prints of it (or copies of a phonographic recording, or DVDs, or what have you). That system is largely successful, evidenced by the fact that you aren't apparently aware that original works by "legendary" artists cost the equivalent of millions (plural) of dollars in some cases (and that artists living today are often paid millions for their work as well--authors, actors, sculptors, painters, playwrights. Copyright protections allow for a "art co-op" to form so that normal people can enjoy it in their homes without spending more than they spent on their car (or possibly their home, in some cases).

    You already get access to the work for dirt cheap. A DVD even at $50 would still be an insanely good deal to commissioning your own film, even with 300 of your best friends. Asking for lower prices is one thing, but asking to have it for free is just as greedy and immoral as the RIAA.
  • by TempeTerra ( 83076 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @01:58AM (#19822225)
    I admire your sentiment, but I doubt that private gun ownership is keeping your government honest. For one thing, I don't think a citizens' militia would have a hope in hell without the support of the military. For another, is your government honest to start with? Speaking as a citizen of another first world country, you guys sure have it rough these days.
  • by Lavene ( 1025400 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @02:07AM (#19822265)

    So we need privacy just like we need guns, to keep the government honest. It is expensive, in lives lost to criminals and similar, just like gun ownership. But it is the only reason the government will not become a dictatorship.
    Uh... Are you sure about that? I mean, your (I guess you're American) government does not exactly come through as an honest group that fear the people even though the people do have guns.

    I'm living in Europe where we don't have guns but still we have mostly honest governments that respect, and to some extent even fear, the people. Guns kill people, they don't create democracies. One should think you people (Americans) had learned that by now...

    A government should fear the people, not because the people might kill them, but because the people have the power to remove them. If the government has to be removed with guns you already live in a dictatorship.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @03:24AM (#19822611)

    If we have guns, we can take the government back when it goes to far
    Wake up brother! If you have guns and even THINK about resisting, they'll send you to some secret prison without a trial.
  • by MikePlacid ( 512819 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:11AM (#19822807)
    You are missing one point I think. US has a precedent-based court system. So a law on the book need not be changed to make you a criminal overnight. Just a new case can be tried in your local court and "clarify" a statute a bit.

    Actually I am amazed how anyone can say that he/she is doing nothing wrong. To state such a thing you should:

    1. Know all the facts. There are statutory crimes. Prosecution does not need to prove that you knew that a girl you've privately written in your diary about - is age of consent minus one day old. If she is - you are guilty. No such thing as "she said she is 21" is relevant.
    2. Know all law in the book. Finished law school already? Do you know how many paragraphs are in your state's Vehicle Code? Make a guess. Then check. Got it? Look at this one - it was not RETROACTIVELY changed. It is there from 1888...
    3. Research all interpretation of the law given by the courts. Do you own any money to the state of Califronia? I am not talking about people not paying California sale taxes while shopping on Internet. They know they have something to hide. No mercy for them. Not here. But let's suppose you are doing consulting work via your own company in Connecticut. Strictly in Connecticut. Do you own CA taxes? Law on the book says: only if you are doing business in California. Problem is - court decisions have already clarified this "doing business" extensively. You can't just read the statute and say: nothing to hide, no taxes past due. Suppose collected data says: you transferred in LAX on the trip to Hawaii and used your laptop to pay your company bill. Paying your company bill has already been clarified as "doing business" by some court decision. You were on CA soil while doing business in 2002 - you owe this state $800 tax plus $700 fee for non-filing in time. Regardless of your company profits. And next year too - it's easy to start doing business in the Golden state, but to terminate you need to pay money and file proper paperwork. Not filed? that's five years in taxes not paid. (I am a bit exagerating here, but based on my own real life experience).

    And, if such a case law clarification what "doing business" means is made after your data is recorded - it is NOT A RETROACTIVE change. It's just a clarification...

    Basically, you should hire a lawyer just to answer this question: have you done anything wrong. 10 lawyers, even better. And they will not give you a definite answer. They will spent a year (at least) to study you monthly activity and research applicable case law. And you will get an estimate: you will be acquitted with 0.99999 probability. Based on the facts presented. Have you missed something? Are you sure this girl was 21? Have you mentioned that bill paid while in the airport?

    Well, OK. Five nines. Good enough? But next month is also collected. Probability goes to square of five nines that is 0.99998. Then next month is also collected... Got the picture?

    Every bit collected by the government gets you one step closer to jail. Yes, you. Never volunteer any information.

    (excuse my English)
  • by coaxial ( 28297 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:22AM (#19822835) Homepage

    No such hurdle exists. The government makes ex post facto laws, and the supreme court approves them when it gets to see them, regardless of the prohibitions of the constitution. Two examples come readily to mind. One is the prohibition on felons from owning firearms, though the law did not exist at the time of the felon's sentencing and the judge did not declare that a prohibition of owning firearms was a specific part of the punishment to be meted out.
    Your example shows that you not only have a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ex post facto law is, but also how an ex post facto law would be enforced, and what criminal punishments are.

    You're example is not an ex post facto law, because it is not a criminal punishment. It is a licensing requirement. The only possible ex post facto situation would be if you already were a felon and a legal gun owner, and then they passed the law saying "no felons can own guns." Even then, that still wouldn't be ex post facto situation because after the date the law went into effect you couldn't own a gun, and if you transfered ownership of them prior to the law's enaction then you wouldn't be involation of the law. (Laws rarely go into effect the moment they are signed. Especially laws that require time to become into complience with them.) The only ex post facto part would be if the government cross checked the felon records with the gun ownership records, and then arrested you for posessing a gun that you no longer owned because you sold it three years prior to the law coming into effect. But that's not what's going on in your example, because that's not what goes on in real life, and you're intent on indicting the real life situation.

    You want to cloud the issue by using the term "punishment," and say that that since the effect is arguably the same as changing the criminal sentencing guidelines after the fact, that they these laws are unconstitutional because the constitution forbids a specific legal mechanism. Of course, it's an inconvient truth, that the forbidden legal mechanism isn't being employed in these case, and so shame be upon anyone driving a truck through this hole in your cleverly crafted arguement.

    Your argument makes just as much sense as: "Your newly passed a law saying I have to be licensed to practice medicine is infringing on my right to free expression, and I used to do that, so this is ex post facto!" The only reason your post has been pushed up to +5 is because no one has called you on the fact that convicted felons are subject to regulatory laws just like everyone else.

    Furthermore, you're trying to argue that the employed legal mechanism that is moot, but it should be declared unconsitutional on mechanicistic grounds. I wish you would make up your mind if the legal mechanism is moot or not. I understand your delima. I really do. If it's moot, then you can claim the moral high ground by trying use mechanistic argument against it because mechanisms are irrelevant, but if isn't moot, then you have to yield that it isn't an ex post facto criminal law. Oh fuck! You're screwed either way! Do you know what that means?

    Your argument has catastrophically collapsed due to being based on a logical fallacy.

    I know of no government excuse for this.
    Bullshit. You provided the "excuse" in your post, promptly calling it "specious" because it has the unfortunate characteristic of actually having the facts on it's side.

    Your argument is crap. You have no understanding of the legal issues involved. Well that's not entirely true. You know what they are, but you don't want them to be true, so you'll just declare it as being prima facie bankrupt, and hope that no one will call your bluff.

    Too bad. I call.
  • by Yer Mom ( 78107 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @06:33AM (#19823409) Homepage
    Not with government. They can just do it anyway, and raise taxes to cover the extra costs. It's not like you can say "these prices are too high, I'll shop elsewhere" unless you emigrate...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @07:50AM (#19823735)
    Let me explain something about the concept of "public" property and "public" services.

    Government, unlike a private business, group, or individual, holds the special right to employ coercion against you -- meaning deadly force or threat thereof -- to get you to buy their product.

    If that doesn't explain why it is absolutely necessary to have strict limits on the size and scope of government, then we are hopelessly destined for total oppression.
  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @09:02AM (#19824211) Journal

    So your argument is, "No fair! He got away with committing a crime?" I never understood the argument for a the statue of limitations. What? It's only a crime if you can't avoid indictment for x years? There's no ex post facto here! He violated the law at the time he committed the crime. Case closed.
    Either we live under the rule of law, or we don't. If the law states that there's a statute of limitations, then the law must be respected by those who made the law and those who enforce the law. It may indeed be true that a statute of limitations is a bad idea, or that it is too short, but that doesn't mean that we arbitrarily change it simply because we don't like the fact that somebody exploited the law.
  • by gorfie ( 700458 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @09:04AM (#19824227)
    I think it's highly obvious. Let's say you break no laws at all... ever. You go the speed limit, you pay your taxes, you buy all of your music / movies, and you never jaywalk. So you have no problem if a governing authority has complete knowledge of everything you do. Some may argue that you might pick your nose and someone would know, but the obvious retort is that there is so much data that no individual would know unless you did something wrong. Everythings's fine and dandy.

    Fast forward 10 years later. The government has full access to your life - cameras everywhere, you have a tracking mechanism embedded in your arm, all your actions are logged, etc.. It has been this way for years. Now the government starts to limit your freedoms further to ensure your safety/wellbeing and the safety/wellbeing of your fellow citizens. You MUST brush your teeth three times a day. You can't consume salt, suger, alcohol, or red meat. You can't have more than one child. You and your family MUST attend government mandated education sessions from 6:00pm to 7:00pm every night - after you work your government mandated 9 hour shift doing what the government deems you are best at. The government has made so many laws that you are guaranteed to be breaking some law - and the government knows and they arrest you for it at their convenience.

    This is an illustration of why we need to protect our privacy. You might have nothing to fear now, but if you give the government too much power you might not be able to stop them once you have something to fear. Or something like that...
  • by Gabrill ( 556503 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @09:36AM (#19824513)
    It pains me to say this (because I wholeheartedly disagree with the ideas of slavery), but the US Civil War marked the last feasible attempt to counter the US government with force of arms. There will never be another chance. No matter how many registered hand guns, hunting rifles, or even National Guard armories a state's militia may have, it will never be able to stand toe to toe with the federal military forces. The states' counterbalance to the federal government as proscribed in the 2nd Amendment is gone. Yes I do interpret the 2nd amendment as referring to the 50 states individually.
  • by Yfrwlf ( 998822 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @09:38AM (#19824535)
    ...shouldn't we be able to spy on it too?
  • by Schraegstrichpunkt ( 931443 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @09:56AM (#19824753) Homepage

    I never understood the argument for the statue of limitations.

    The evidence you might want to use to defend yourself in a trial might no longer be available after a "long" time.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @10:13AM (#19824913) Journal
    My question is, isn't the whole 'government intrusiveness' issue a logical result of the nanny state?

    I mean, to put it in more pedestrian terms: if I can't make my house payment (or food, or car lease, or whatever) and so I have to beg you for money to keep me going, don't you logically have a vested interest in my activities? If you're lending me $ so my kids can eat, but then you see me drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette (or having a satellite dish installed), aren't you justifiably going to be a little pissed off?

    Every time we hand power over the daily conduct of our lives to the government, we EMPOWER them to surveil, intrude, and legislate our activities. If we ask the government to ban smoking, we SIMULTANEOUSLY are asking the government to keep an eye in every public space to make sure there's no smoking.

    To extrapolate further (and onto thinner ice, I'm well aware), if we hand over the complete responsibility for our personal safety to the government (say, by banning personal firearms), aren't we simultaneously giving them a perfect justification for watching us at every moment, so as to keep us safe?

    Since the New Deal, we've had a populace which has WELCOMED government involvement in everything: who you can hire, who you can fire, where you can smoke, what you can smoke ... many of the rules made for the best of reasons. But the Founding Fathers (whom I respect for their foresight more every year) anticipated this, and laid out a government whose powers were STRICTLY circumscribed to a fairly small number of responsibilities. Sadly, Roosevelt's "Good Intentions" paved right over those limits while building the road to the current situation.

    Slashdotters love to quote the old saying "People who give up an essential liberty for a little security deserve neither" when talking about the Bush Administration's efforts against global terrorism. What they don't seem to realize is that SAME aphorism applies to their government-backed college loan, or the laws that prevent employers firing them because they're gay. Personally, I don't think many of the people 'demanding' liberty could really handle the consequences of liberty for everyone - read Second Life's "The War of the Jessie Wall" ( p) (Parts 1-5) & []) (Parts 6-10). It's an eye-opening illustration of what happens when utopian ideals of freedom are applied generally, unfortunately Linden Labs chose to play God instead of seeing how this would eventually resolve itself.

    Simply put: We can't have our cake and eat it, too. If you want to get rid of the overreaching Federal government sticking its nose into everything, then you have to also get rid of the Federal government that requires handicapped access, enforces affirmative action, supplies welfare, medicaid, and (allegedly administers) social security, sets educational & medical standards, and whole host of other things that people consider beneficial because they are in fact two sides of the same coin.
  • Better way: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @10:17AM (#19824943)
    No, you pull down THEIR pants.

    This whole question to me can be summed up in a single 15 minute debate I had in an ethics class years ago. One of the (female) students was arguing that surveillance cameras all over public places were a very good thing, because they could help prevent (or at least prosecute) rape/assault.

    When I pointed out to her that she is many more times as likely to be assaulted/raped by her boyfriend/husband, and then asked her if it wouldn't make more sense to put a camera in her bedroom. I then asked if we should have the police monitoring her daughter 24/7, especially in their beds and in the bathroom, because again, they're far more likely to be abused by a family member (and in such private places as that) ... at this point she stopped arguing.
  • by PAH_III ( 1126645 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @11:09AM (#19825467)
    Seems like the slashdot community is all in agreement on this one. But I have another approach to offer that I think everyone here can appreciate: What if I'm in the middle of developing the next big thing (sliced bread, fire, the wheel, iPhone:-P)? Then I absolutely want to protect my privacy from others who would steal it and call it their own (especially the gov't). You're damn right I'd have something to hide, and it wouldn't have to mean that what I'm hiding is illegal.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @12:04PM (#19826255)
    Or, give me your credit card numbers and your mother's maiden name.
  • by BgJonson79 ( 129962 ) <> on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @12:31PM (#19826677)
    What's to stop the government from removing the power of the people to remove them?
  • First off, a disclaimer: I don't own a gun, I don't hunt, and I'm even a vegetarian.

    Guns kill people, they don't create democracies. One should think you people (Americans) had learned that by now...

    One thing you need to understand about Americans is that our democracy was largely created by guns. We wouldn't have had a democracy in the 18th century if it hadn't been for our guns.

    If the government has to be removed with guns you already live in a dictatorship.

    Absolutely. But if you're not allowed to have guns when living in a democracy, then how are you going to get the guns to overthrow that dictatorship if/when it comes?

    I'm not saying the gun argument is completely valid (we would need the support of at least some of the military as well if it came to overthrowing the government) - I'm just pointing out that it's not as invalid as you seem to think.

  • by downhole ( 831621 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:07PM (#19829499) Homepage Journal
    Based on what I have heard about it, I do support it. The threat of terrorism is ridiculed a lot around here, but the fact is that there are terrorists out there who do want to kill us. You can't not know this if you pay any attention at all to the news. If you want the Government to have a shot at stopping them, they need to have some surveillance/intelligence abilities.

    Most of the outrage here strikes me as political posturing. I.E. whenever a Republican is in power, Democrats argue against everything he does with any halfway plausible argument they can think up, but you never hear them saying what exactly you want him to do, and then approving when he does that, complete with all of the unintended consequences that result. And of course, Republicans do the same thing when a Democrat is in power. Just more of the same. A terrorist attack happens, and it's "Why didn't you stop it, you moron!". Then they increase surveillance and such to try to stop the next one, and it's "Don't you dare invade my privacy, you bastard!"

    If you want to convince me that you really do oppose any kind of similar surveillance on ideological grounds (not just knee-jerk Bush bashing), what I want to hear you say is that when another terrorist attack happens, or even in regard to 9/11, that the Government can't be expected to stop it. That you prefer that they be limited in their ability to stop it if it means that you get more privacy. That you look at the blood of dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of your countrymen dead and say that it's too bad, but you'd rather have more privacy. These are the consequences of taking such positions in the real world. It's easy to argue for such things on an internet board, but it's much harder to implement them in the real world and deal with the consequences that you didn't think about or take seriously.

    Don't mistake the above for a strawman attack - personally, I'd like to see more of that attitude. I'd rather see more people take responsibility for keeping themselves safe then cry to the Government for more protection every time some people get killed. I'd rather see us hitting terrorists and their support structure overseas then trying to crack down on everything and everyone here at home. But I'm sure some of you posting here - you know who you are - have argued for stop the terrorist attacks + don't send the military to attack anyone + don't spy on me. I'd love to live in the perfect fantasy world where that was possible, but it just doesn't exist. There really are people out there who want to hurt you, and if you don't stop them one way or another, they will succeed eventually.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin