Six Lines

The “Nothing to Hide” Argument

Posted by Aaron Massey on 24 May 2011.

Daniel Solove has a fantastic article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide.’” Here’s a teaser:

When the government gathers or analyzes personal information, many people say they’re not worried. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” they declare. “Only if you’re doing something wrong should you worry, and then you don’t deserve to keep it private.”

The nothing-to-hide argument pervades discussions about privacy. The data-security expert Bruce Schneier calls it the “most common retort against privacy advocates.” The legal scholar Geoffrey Stone refers to it as an “all-too-common refrain.” In its most compelling form, it is an argument that the privacy interest is generally minimal, thus making the contest with security concerns a foreordained victory for security.

Solove wrote a law review paper on this same topic back in 2007. He’s expanded the concept into a new book titled “Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Security and Privacy.” I’ve read several of his books, and I’m almost certain to read this one as well. He writes eloquently about privacy, which is generally difficult to write about well.