Wednesday, June 19, 2013

5 Reasons you should fight for privacy even if you have nothing to hide

In the national discussion that arose in the wake of the revelations about NSA's PRISM program, I've heard many people say something to the effect of, "I don't break any laws, so I have nothing to hide. Why should I care?" Well here's why:

1. Not doing anything wrong is not the same as having nothing to hide

Data collection and analysis can bring harm to people who lead exemplary lives. If you run a business, or work at one, you have trade secrets and clients to protect. If you run for political office, you have campaign strategies that your opponent would love to know. If you are a journalist, you have sources to keep anonymous. And we all have stuff that someone would like to steal. Information collected from your online communications could give a business or political rival an unfair advantage against you, or could be used by an unethical person to construct a detailed and highly deceptive phishing attack to obtain passwords or other information, or could be used to determine when a home or business is unattended and vulnerable to break-in.

But the NSA's not going to do be doing any of that kind of stuff right? Probably not. But it's not the NSA, per se, that we need to worry about....

2. Hackers

You may trust the American government with all the intimate details of your life, but how about the Chinese Government? China has repeatedly gained access to Top-Secret information held in government systems. What about a hacker group like Anonymous? Or the Russian mafia?

3. Rogue Employees

There are policies in place designed to prevent information from being leaked, but are you absolutely certain that the employees who have access to your private information will obey their employers' policies? Edward Snowden didn't. He broke policy for idealistic reasons but there's no guarantee the next leaker won't have more nefarious purposes.
It is a law of human nature that all power will be abused at some point. Remember when we learned that the IRS was targeting conservative groups? Or that Mark Zuckerberg broke into the Email accounts of rivals and journalists? Or that members of Congress routinely trade stocks based on insider information? The information PRISM collects will be abused as well.

4. Regime Change

Today's government may be trustworthy, but our government is guaranteed to change hands. And the next administration inherits all the information collected by the previous ones. Are you certain that in the next election those loonies on the other side of the aisle won't get the votes they need to put immoral/incompetent people in charge of everyone's information?

5. It's not just about you

Maybe you think privacy doesn't matter to you because you're too insignificant - you don't have any money or important information, and you never do anything improper or embarassing. But what about the people you know? What about your friends, family members, or co-workers? Information about you can be used to get to them. It is important that we protect the people who ARE potential targets - political candidates, activists, business owners, judges and attorneys, members of the military, etc...

Just in case you haven't already realized it - every one of these arguments applies not just to the government, but to the corporations that collect this information in the first place. The potential for abuse seems much more likely by an employee of Microsoft or Google or Apple than by a vetted government contractor - and we already know THAT has happened. The solution to this issue is not for the NSA to stop getting information from service and content providers - it's for the service providers to stop collecting the information in the first place.