The fallacy of the "If you've got nothing to hide" argument

We are all witnessing a number of interesting reactions to the latest scandals revealed regarding this administration, the NSA’s collection of all American Verizon customer’s phone call information and,now, the collection of e-mail and other documents from a host of Internet companies. One of the most telling is the attempt to excuse this intrusion by saying, “if you’ve got nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear.” That thought has been expressed by a number of people in history, including several you really don’t want to be associated with, trust me. It’s use is a classic false dilemma, however, and tells you a lot about the person suggesting it.

The fallacy this rides upon is the unspoken assertion that fear of being caught doing something you shouldn’t be is the  only reason you would have to not want just anyone to read your email or listen to your calls. There’s a reason the Founders wrote the 4th Amendment. Free citizens do not require any more compelling reason to restrict access to their “papers and effects” than that they consider them to be none of anyone else’s business. Under the 4th, it is the government that must prove their overriding interest makes it their business. That’s why the “nothing to hide” comment is nothing more than an effort to blame the victim and lay the onus of defending one’s action on them. It’s the argument of a person who knows they’ve got no explanation for their intrusion. We, as a nation, should not accept this behavior.

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One comment

  1. So much of the data we use on the internet, data about ourselves, our emails and the such pass back and forth from server to serve to get where it needs to go. No one should need a warrant to obtain this data since it is openly shared from server to server and there shouldn’t be any expectation of privacy. However, if the government is accessing anything password protect or encrypted, the government is exerting an effort to access a person ‘papers and effects’. Now we cross into an area where the government should demonstrate a need to violate the expectation of privacy.

    Just because you have nothing to hide does not mean that the government will not hound you because they feel you have committed a crime.

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