One of the oft-repeated mantras of the internet privacy movement is “I don’t have anything to hide, but nothing I want to show you either.”
Though this may seem a paradoxical statement, it points to a near-universal truth: we are all selective about how we share information about ourselves. You might share some personal information with your lawyer, but not with your doctor, and vice versa. You might share secrets with close friends that you would be embarrassed to share with work colleagues.
The idea that only a criminal would demand a right to privacy is about equivalent to saying that only a hate group would want a right to free speech. After all, if free speech is so important to you, you must have something extremely objectionable to say—right?
But we protect the freedom of expression not because we enjoy listening to hate speech, but because the alternative would be to tolerate a world where authorities have the right to decide which ideas can be heard, and the power to silence dissenters and opponents.
Such a world would be so dangerous to democracy, so conducive to tyranny, and so liable to abuse by the makers and enforcers of our laws, that we prefer to protect the freedom of expression, even if it exposes us to opinions we dislike, or hateful attitudes that we abhor.
Privacy: Use It or Lose It
The same is true with privacy. We demand privacy from our government and our neighbors, not because we wish to support illegal or objectionable activities, but because the alternative would be to live in a world where authorities would have the means to scrutinize our daily lives, ban certain activities arbitrarily, and oppress political dissent among the public.
If that seems unlikely or too far-fetched a scenario for you, keep in mind that over a billion people around the world live under political regimes that routinely censor information, or use surveillance tactics to identify and repress undesired political opinions and activities.
If that’s not the case in your own country, it’s only because your existing rights to privacy and free speech help keep your government accountable to its people. Those rights were put in place precisely to keep your government from abusing its power.
Think of it this way: would you accept a world where a government agency keeps tabs on everything you say and everything you do offline? If not, why allow this for your online activities?
And even if you trust your current government, would you feel the same way about a future government with anti-democratic tendencies and a populace already used to being monitored and tracked?
Don’t Make It Easy to Surveil You
If you’d prefer not to live under an undemocratic government without a right to privacy or freedom of expression, your first step should be to refuse to be monitored in the first place.
That means using encrypted messaging and encrypted email to keep your communications private, using the Tor browser or a reliable VPN to keep your online life private and to evade censorship, and encouraging those around you to do the same.
You may not have anything to hide: but your political freedom depends on having the ability to hide whatever you want.
For even more on this topic, hear what Glenn Greenwald had to say about privacy at a TED conference:
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