• Nolan Callahan

"Why should I care? I have nothing to hide."

Addressing the most popular rebuttal used when addressing privacy concerns.

This sentiment was one of the first that Edward Snowden ever addressed, and it’s still, to this day one of his best and most memorable quotes.

“Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

This is one of my favorite quotes because it’s not only true, but it’s even more relevant today than it was when he first came forward about the actions of the National Security Agency (NSA). People may not even care about their right to free speech until it’s their voice being silenced. Yet their privacy is being violated on a daily basis both by their government and large corporations that profit from advertising, yet they actually care about the fundamental right to privacy equally as much as the right to free speech.

If whoever is reading this is still maintaining the stance that they have nothing to hide and therefore don’t care deeply about their privacy, let’s go through a simple thought exercise.

Nearly everyone has a lock on their phone, so others can’t pick it up and begin sifting through their personal information. This is not only to protect yourself, but to maintain your privacy. But let’s take it a step up from there. Imagine if someone grabbed your phone, unlocked it, and began going through all your emails, text messages, pictures, and browsing habits, all without your permission.

Now they have a complete picture of your life, who you connect with, your private life is now fully exposed, what you like to buy, your interests, and what you do in your spare time. Now imagine you have two entities that would quite literally pay an exorbitant amount of money to buy or obtain and store this information.

One of them wants to take this little profile they’ve built and not only compile it, stamp a nice little fingerprint on it so that way nobody can mistake it for being someone else’s, and then sell it to other companies. You don’t know who. You don’t know when. But sold to the highest bidders. Plural. So now an unknown number of companies (but more than two) now have a profile of you in their system to be passed around and used for advertising purposes, to pedal products you may or may not like to you, while you never receive a single cent of what the company sold your profile for.

Our lives have effectively become a dollar sign.

The second entity, however, compiles this information and creates a more robust and thorough profile on you. You haven’t done anything wrong, and statistically speaking, never will. Not to the degree to justify having a profile this thorough and invasive built up for you, that is. Before you’ve even committed a crime, you’ve been deemed guilty until proven innocent. Typically, as the justice system is supposed to operate, it’s the reverse, we are innocent until proven guilty. When information is harvested and stored in the name of “national security,” on an individual who’s never been suspected of a crime, how else can it be interpreted?

If a police officer wanted to search my house, they’d have to obtain a warrant that was approved by a judge stating probable cause of illegal activity. If the government wants my text messages, emails, personal pictures, internet browsing history, my bank information,to know how much money I have, where I like to shop and what items I like to purchase, who my friends and family are, and what I do in spare time, they can gather all of it without so much as asking me for it.

Still not convinced?

I assume that wherever you live, you have blinds in front of your windows so passerby’s and neighbors can’t look into your house whenever they choose. I’m not just referring to the bathroom or your bedroom either, they’re in all likelihood all around the house. Now, why would someone who claims they don’t care about their privacy and have “nothing to hide” choose to hide themselves behind blinds?

The answer is simple, really. Because it’s nobody’s business what happens in their house, and they have a right to shield themselves from prying eyes. Now, let’s flip this on its head. Let’s say that because you have blinds in front of your window, I assume that it’s because you’re hiding the fact you’re committing illegal activities. Before I even have evidence, I assume you’re doing something nefarious behind those blinds, and I believe it’s my duty to intrude on your life and make you prove that you’re innocent. Then I forcibly rip your blinds down and watch you as you move about your house. Then what if I told you there was nothing you could do about it, and if you try to hide, it’s proof you were guilty.

Think about this scenario. Really think about it.

I have just committed a gross mischaracterization, and assumed you were doing something you weren’t. If I, as an individual did this, you’d curse my name. Yet if I said I was a part of the NSA or a government agency, suddenly it’s acceptable behavior. The general premise remains the same. You are treated as guilty until proven innocent with no evidence to support it.

I wish that what I’ve said here was hyperbole or some outlandish conspiracy theory but it unfortunately is not. In terms of what the United States and other world governments are capable of, Edward Snowden along with several other whistle blowers have come forward, with evidence about this.

As for the corporations that siphon our data, you need to look no further than the terms and conditions you agree to any time you decide to use one of their services. Companies legally have to disclose what they are intending to do with the data they harvest from you in the format of a series of terms and conditions. What they don’t require, is that we as consumers, read it. The harsh reality is that not many people do. Companies are quite literally telling you they’re going to steal every byte of information they can from you and sell it, and yet people sign up for these services and use these products without any regard. Which brings me to my next point.

We can do something about this.

Because companies are forced to legally disclose what they intend to do with our data, you can simply elect not to use them. Simple concept, right? Well, easier to say than do unfortunately. One of the biggest offenders, Google, takes and consolidates everything you do on the internet while either using one of their accounts, their search engine, Youtube, and many other services their tendrils have touched, and then sell it. They are an advertising company masquerading as a tech company, that offers, arguably, the best search engine to ever exist, and many, many useful products, including a free email service that quite literally millions of people use every single day. In exchange for your precious personal data, you get free, functional, and useful services out of it.

Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones offering these types of services.

Open source alternatives are being developed every single day, and because of the fact it’s open source, many projects are contributed to by the community and very talented developers are not only making sure the source code is free of any back door nonsense or telemetry, but they are as user friendly as their big-tech closed-source alternatives.

As an alternative to Gmail, we have great services like ProtonMail, Tutanota, Mailbox.org, and Posteo.

As an alternative to browsers like Chrome or Edge, we have open source alternatives like Firefox and Brave.

As an alternative to the stock Android operating system that has layers upon layers of google telemetry coded into it by default, we have open source OS alternatives like Graphene, CalyxOS, and LineageOS.

I love that people are beginning to care about their privacy, and do what they can to learn more about it.

I’m just trying to do my part in it now.