When the most recent wiretapping and digital mining by the NSA was brought to light, two camps stood out as the loudest: those who were absolutely outraged, and those who were in support for the program. From those who say they approve, there was the same Orwellian rallying cry: If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.
This simple but terrifying statement assumes far too much about governmental benevolence and civilian deviancy.
First, it implies that anything that anyone would want to keep private is illegal at best and diabolical at worst. But the desire for privacy is less about having the government listen as it’s about having anyone listen—just how comfy can you get knowing someone’s watching and taking notes?
Secondly, it implies that the government is always the good guy, which is demonstrably untrue. When an official is embezzling money, when contracts behind closed doors, when orders are given for the systematic torture of prisoners, these are all cases when the government tries to hide things from its citizens.
Not everything that is illegal is immoral, and not everything that the government thinks is suspicious actually is. When you give the government the power to not only determine what behaviors and interests are acceptable, but also access to monitoring those behaviors and interests, then you exclude possibilities for a better society. Anarchist vegan co-ops get put on watch lists not because they pose a danger, but because they present a model of living that exists outside of the American norm. If you go off-script, then you’re a possible threat.
Even if you don’t believe that the current U.S. government is an oppressive force, you can’t deny that it has been one and could quickly become one again. If we can’t talk to each other freely, then we can’t fight. And if the government wants us to tilt our hand, then they need to return the favor.
As you say, Mr. President: If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.