Should nothing to hide be discredited?

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The realisation of the world we live in was seen none more so than when Edward Snowden released a cache of documents to show the extent and widespread snooping being carried out by government organisations.

Since this came to light there has been an increase in groups and movements towards privacy and encryption, increasingly focusing on the online world and mobile communications. This in itself is a positive move, not only due to the evidence of mass spying by governmental organisations but also to increase the security against nefarious types who have a vested interest in stealing your login details or credentials when accessing networks such as public wi-fi.

With recent revelations the push towards privacy is less in regard to those criminal types and more in a gesture against government spy organisations, at the very least in a thumb biting exercise. While the majority of us have “nothing to hide” there is a somewhat satisfaction when making use of encryption techniques such as a Virtual Private Network which allows users to back that mass surveillance power from the so called three letter agencies (NSA, GCHQ etc.) and puts it firmly in the hand of the citizen.

The world appears to be now split in to two camps. Those who are literally shouting from the rooftops that we need to secure our internet connections in rebellion against spy agencies. The other camp being those who upon hearing the explanation of what the spy organisations are doing respond simply with a shrug of the shoulders and proclaim, “I have nothing to hide”.

Before I continue, I am wholly against mass surveillance and as a personal choice in the main choose to encrypt my connection both at home and while mobile. Encryption of my mobile communications especially when accessing public wi-fi is for security reasons against criminals and less so because of the fear of mass surveillance.

Over recent months those that are of the opinion that they have nothing to hide appear to be berated for this view. When hearing this type of response from someone, the camp who are staunchly against mass surveillance pounce on the opportunity to belittle or ridicule that individual for harbouring that notion.

While I fully understand the reasoning behind those that are in strong support of encryption against government spying, I have to wonder if we are starting to see a trend develop that is unhealthy in that there are those who feel they have a superior opinion and those who don’t support it are somewhat lesser or uneducated. I am a great believer in individual choice and option and while many opinions may not fall in line with my own, I am happy for each individual to make up their own mind regarding any specific situation.

Glenn Greenwald who I respect hugely for the work he did in the Snowden incident recently gave a TED presentation in which he talks about this very issue. Although Greenwald makes good points regarding privacy as a whole his argument is distorted in the way that he compares two separate issues to highlight the requirement of privacy against mass surveillance.

In his talk he explains that any time someone states that they have nothing to hide, he invites them to email all of their passwords to an email address he controls so he can login, look through and publish any material he feels fit. The outcome of his experiment is that not one person has taken him up on his offer. Although I understand the purpose of the point he is trying to raise I feel the experiment is flawed in relation to how it is supposed to prove that this is a similar case to government mass surveillance and the privacy that it removes.

While it is not necessarily my view, those who have nothing to hide are less concerned about the government scooping up all of their data but still concerned about a random individual doing a similar thing. So in the case of the Greenwald talk I think it would be found that the majority of those who are less bothered about the recent revelations because they have “nothing to hide” would be extremely concerned about revealing their personal communications, data and thoughts to a random individual who could be part of a criminal enterprise.

Regardless what position you take on privacy from the government debate it is firstly extremely important that privacy from criminal organisations and those who wish to exploit our personal data for financial gain is the paramount focus of online privacy education. In the second instance it is of equally critical importance that we allow each individual to make their own conclusions on the privacy against the government debate and not evolve the recent revelations in to a situation where one camp attempts to dictate how everyone should feel about a specific revelation or topic.

When we belittle, berate or force our opinions on to others we become no better than those who dragnet collect our data. While you may not agree with those who are not concerned because they have “nothing to hide” (from the government or spy organisations) after you have explained the reasoning behind your own thoughts then it must be so that each individual is left with the choice to decide for themselves how they view the situation.

Only when this is achieved can we work towards a more harmonious world and one in which personal freedom of expression is key to that ideal.

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