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you have something to hide – and so do i

14/08/2014 - Posted in privacy Posted by:

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reading time: 4 minutes

I bet everyone out there who is security conscious knows the scenario where you are talking with your friends, coworkers, etc about privacy and it turns into this super heated discussion where the positions harden up, up to a point where no further constructive exchange is possible. It all started harmless with some completely random topic and nobody knew where this was heading. The internet with all its glory and of course with all its dangers is just too entangled in our every day life. These discussions probably happen in a lot of groups and i suppose end most of the time the same way. Both sides get frustrated and for the sake of friendship just talk about something else.

While it is utterly important that these discussions take place it is not healthy how they end. This is not good for either party. For such important topics like privacy it is important that there is constant exchange of ideas. It is a process where both sides can benefit from. For people with a technical background it is crucial to understand how the common people think about the internet, smartphones, social networks and so on and for the common folk*, for simplicity’s sake lets just think in one big category, it is of foremost important to understand the dangers and pitfalls of technology they do not understand.

Most people argue that they don’t have something to hide and therefore they do not care if the “good guys” like NSA and cohorts fulfil their duty and spy on everyone just to catch the occasional bad guy on accident. I stumbled upon an article on “The Chronicle of Higher Education” via hacker news that is very valuable and talks about the issue of the “i have nothing to hide”-argument. The main statement of this article is that privacy is about far more than just hiding something. It is about your information and about what happens with it. In general it is not even about information. Rather it is an abstract idea and a right that everyone possesses. Because people fail to make this connection privacy is a topic they care very little about. It is crucial though that people understand that privacy is a right they have to defend, that they have to fight for but even before that, they need to care about it.

The best way to achieve that is to make them realise that privacy affects them and that privacy protects far more than their secrets. Like the previously mentioned article points out privacy in some sense returns some power to the people. A hypothetical case, i borrow from the article, depicts the following scenario.

A Writer buys books on methamphetamine because he** writes a book which features a person that is involved with meth. As a thorough author he informs himself about the topic to be able to write an authentic novel. Data collected about his purchases might get him a place on a list of people to watch. Because everyone who gathers information on a topic such as meth is a potential danger.

As you can see suddenly the citizens have the responsibility to justify ordinary things they are doing. Governments and agencies which gather information and maybe even connect information may deduce “facts” about someone which do not represent the real world. In theory people might get marked as potential dangers although they did nothing wrong. Things like no flight lists or being taken aside at the airport for a thorough check can happen to completely innocent people just because some data gets connected and probably misinterpreted. People have to understand that privacy or rather the lack of it has far reaching consequences.

The article points out more facts that influence ordinary people and undermines their rights. It is worth a read and you should check it out. It is good to think about these things when you talk to your peers next time. In order for them to listen you have to get the message across, that privacy is important and that it affects them in more ways than just their email traffic or their pr0n taste. Because humans are very convenient people they do not bother with the bad stuff until it is too late. It kind of is like when people refuse to visit a doctor when something hurts them until they cannot delay it anymore and then the doctor tells them that it is a complicated case now – if they just have come earlier it would have been easier to counter the symptoms.

It is our duty, as people with insight, to stay calm during mentioned discussions and show the common folk* that the internet and computers influence them more than they believe and therefore changes concerning privacy affect them in ways they have not imagined. It is our duty to stay calm, talk to them and open their eyes. They have to understand that the power of information goes beyond their imagination and that it is a lot more entangled with the real world than they see. It is our duty to help them understand the true nature of privacy.

* sounds degrading but is just meant as an easy description for the majority of people who do not care about privacy
** for simplicities sake i just wrote the male form, of course you can substitute this story with a female, transgender, whatever person.

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