I had never questioned my privacy over telephones or online until I started hearing rumors about Echelon all over the internet years ago. Then Carnivore was announced and basically confirmed all the suspicions. Everything that’s happened since is just in the wake. There’s more than that though. Even if you have nothing to hide, you can still be mistakenly thought to have something to hide. All it takes is one false positive to ruin your day.
People who say “I have nothing to hide” realize they have already lost the argument and so try to turn it into a veiled personal attack to change the discussion. A good counter to it is “so why would you tolerate someone spying on you if you have done nothing wrong?”
Another argument I use against “I have nothing to hide” is “so when do I come to your house and install a webcam in your bedroom?” It’s shut quite a few mouths. Bedroom is good. Toilet is even better. If they have no modesty, ask them to hand over the account numbers and passwords to their bank accounts. Also ask for their full medical history. If that doesn’t shut them up, ask for the same for their entire extended family.
In light of the people deciding that people don’t have anything to hide, I ask that everyone answer the following questionnaire:
1) What is your bank account PIN number?
2) What is your annual salary?
3) What is your Significant Other’s phone number?
4) What are your passwords to various email and web accounts?
Some people believe that the government does (or could) know my bank account information, my medical history, my cell phone calls, etc etc. The problem is you’re seeing “government” is a single abstract entity. But government is made up of all those petty civil servants at the local council, policemen, judges and so on. Would you be happy to have a file with full details of your children sent to every policeman in your city? Presumably only if policemen were incorruptible, absolutely trusted, and none of them were themselves abusers. If you believe that about the police, well…
So this is why it’s not a question about should “the government” have access to this data. It’s about should all these random people have access to it? Is it really necessary for anyone but one person (my family doctor alone) to have access to my medical history? Or should that be shared with every single snooper at the local council? Should I give the firemen plans to my house, when it’s possible that one of them has a sideline in burglary?
Sure, criminal behavior has changed because of the government’s newfound monitoring power. Instead of using regular cell phones, professional bad guys now use nice untraceable prepaid cell phones…and discard them regularly. So, the data retention has indeed brought on a change – but the change makes the data retention useless.
What the data retention does do is to trip up the only-vaguely-criminal acts of the amateur. For instance, it is now much easier to track down the affairs of an unfaithful spouse, and to win a nice fat divorce settlement. Somehow I doubt that was the original aim of the data retention.
The thing to remember is privacy is not just about moral or immoral behavior. Privacy is the right to control the personal aspects of your life and who you share them with. Privacy just is.