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“I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy

The argument that no privacy problem exists if a person has nothing to hide is frequently made in connection with many privacy issues. When the government engages in surveillance, many people believe that 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.

Professor Daniel J. Solove has posted this paper as a 28-page pdf to be read on-line or downloaded (at no charge), at


……….A. A Pluralistic Conception of Privacy
……….B. The Social Value of Privacy
……….A. Understanding the Many Dimensions of Privacy
……….B. Understanding Structural Problems


Since the September 11 attacks, the government has been engaging in extensive surveillance and data mining. Regarding surveillance, in December 2005, the New York Times revealed that after September 11, the Bush Administration secretly authorized the National Security Administration (NSA) to engage in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens’ telephone calls.1 As for data mining, which involves analyzing personal data for patterns of suspicious behavior, the government has begun numerous programs….

See Prof. Solove’s About page at


  1. Longrider says:

    The “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” meme really is the mantra of the hard of thinking. We had it trotted out in the UK time after time when we were facing the Identity Cards legislation. There are always the intellectually challenged willing to give up their souls to the courageous state in the name of the illusion of protection from bogeymen.

  2. Mr Ed says:

    The answer is simple, ‘you have no reason to look’. And if they say they have, as you might be a terrorist/taxpayer, what ifthesnooper is the terrorist?

  3. John Galt says:

    Sorry Ed, In my book the state snooper IS the terrorist. Certainly I and my family have fled in terror of the state, the UK in this case.

    Certainly I’ve had more heartache, disruption, stress and lost earnings due to the terror of the state than every terrorist that has ever existed.

  4. Sam Duncan says:

    John, while no friend of the state myself, I’ve always found that viewpoint a bit overstated. But I’ve just started reading Hans Hermann Hoppe’s The Private Production of Defense. He makes a good case. A – rather long – QOTD may follow.

  5. John Galt says:

    Sam – Paranoid I accept it is and I am, but overstated it is not.

  6. Paul Marks says:

    I agree with the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

    No doubt that belief makes me a paranoid reactionary.

  7. NickM says:

    Paul if that makes you a paranoid reactionary then so am I. And so is JG, and so is JP and Perry at Samizdata and so on and so forth.

    When I last visited the USA (2005) we were herded by the TSA through Phily airport (they had subdivided the path to the gates with plywood). An American man from the same flight spotting my accent apologised to me on behalf of his country. It was chaos and being bunched-up like that looked like the “shower scene” from Schindler’s list. Then I have to surrender my camera and laptop and stand behind a yellow piece of tape whilst some numpty turns it on and off again. I step an inch over the line to retrieve it and get shouted at. I’m 5’11″ and the line was an easy dropping distance for an expensive piece of kit. God I only crossed the line to collect what was mine. I mean for fuck’s sake I was on honeymoon (DC and Key West) and I only had the Thinkpad to email folks back home (like the folks what had paid for it to say – having a great time etc) and to stash photos – a lot of which I took in the Smithsonian NASM – my ulterior motive for DC.

    I shall leave the experience on the way back (Key West, Ft Lauderdale, Philly, Manchester for another time but I saw something tragic there, something horrendous and almost lost my Thinkpad R40 due to the whole TSA circus resembling Paddy’s Market.. I almost lost it because it got confused briefly with a business traveller’s identical machine because of the pressure of time at the security checks. Thankfully me and her managed to sort it otherwise she’d have been giving a business presentation with my holiday snaps and I’d have a load of Excel and Powerpoint to show for my honeymoon! Interesting point – the specific data is always worth more than the medium. I guess that wasn’t so bad for me. Me and the business woman would have managed somehow to repatriate the respective machines privately. If the TSA, mind had got involved my Thinkpad would still be languishing in the same warehouse as the Ark of the Covenant. The rest, the tragic and horrendous for later.

  8. Paul Marks says:

    Nick – I did not say that being a paranoid reactionary was a bad thing to be……

  9. John Galt says:

    Yup. This whole TSA bullshit is also why the family and I will never go on vacation to the US.

    I lived in the US between 1994 and 1996 as well as travelling there periodically for vacation / training (I worked in Europe for an American company), but after another typical bullying and threatening encounter with the TSA over nothing while departing from Houston, decided it was not worth the hassle. I’ve not been back and I’m not missing it.

    The institution of the Travel Promotion Act of 2007 (aka Mickey Mouse Act) whereby they tax tourists to spend on tourism promotion activities was probably the nail in the coffin.

    I genuinely feel sorry for American friends and colleagues trapped under the boot-heel of the US government.

  10. NickM says:

    Neither did! From my experience some of the most open-minded, inquisitive, “last stone-throwers” I know are the sorts oif people who get termed “paranoid reactionaries”.

    When I first visited the USA in the ’90s it was so different. They actually seemed pleased to see me. To be fair the Poles are almost worse. The average Pole you meet in a shop, cafe, bar etc is fine. The ones in official, government uniforms need to be reminded that Stalin is pushing-up the Kremlin Wall. Polish (nationalised) railways are a feat of surliness and deliberate obfuscation to behold. And I must tell folks about the “big tent” in Krakow. Oh, OK… The Castle museum in Krakow has as it’s logo an image of a big tent. This is the tent the Polish Hussars captured from the Ottoman top-fella at the relief of the siege of Vienna in 1683. This was a piece of macrohistorical importance. Well, it wasn’t I asked. I was lead by armed guard(!) into an ante-chamber for quite a long wait. Then taken by armed guard through the dungeons to someone who explained to me the tent could not be viewed by the public. Earlier I had stepped on some grass (I was walking back to frame a photo of the Castle) and was shooed away by a SWAT-type in body armour and helmet waving an H-K machine pistol at me. All I was trying to do was visit my sister-in-law, see a bit of history and turn GBP into Zloty!

    There is a coda to this. I have subsequently traveled to Istanbul. Now if there is one place in the World where you might expect to find an Ottoman General’s tent that’s your gaff. Not soap though. It’s becoming an idee fixe for me. Anyway, I found Turkey very friendly though I suspect that due to dear Mr Erdogan this may increasingly not be the case. For shame! I thought Istanbul was brilliant. It would be a true tragedy for civilization if Turkey retreats into becoming a Sunni Iran.

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