Nothing to hide, nothing to fear

For the overwhelming majority of people, surveillance is nothing to worry about. 'If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear'.

To quote James Corbett: "We've all heard this argument a million times when talking to people about the latest revelations of government snooping or the latest roll-out of creepy Orwellian technology. The implication is that the only people who complain about having their privacy violated are criminals who deserve to have their privacy violated. It is a simple phrase, learned by rote, that is meant to bring the conversation to a close."

Should we let the conversation close at this point? We should not, but how do we refute this statement of the naives and ignorants? They are entirely insensitive to the perpetual violation of our constitutional rights. They don't care that one of the cornerstones of constitutional democracy, 'innocent until proven guilty', has just been twisted around to 'guilty until proven otherwise'. Neither do they think about the future consequences of this paradigm change.

There are a few arguments focusing on the logical and technical aspects of this whole scenario which I find noteworthy.

  • What precedes 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' is often 'I've got nothing of interest for anyone'. This latter statement is not even wrong: it is irrelevant since it's not us who decide whether or not our data are of interest. The services do, and they have decided that they are interested, which is why they collect our data.
  • In any case, the services are not interested in us as separate individuals, but as networked entities with relationships. Particularly, their software automatically gathers and connects the next 'three hops', i.e., all the people related to the people related to the people related to me or you. Mathematically, that amounts to n_3 with the number _n of people involved in each step (assuming they are equal). If we are well-connected, the result is the entire population of a country.
  • The services thus monitor the communication of an enormous number of people to find the needle in the haystack (or that's what they say). How do they find the needle in the haystack? By statistical methods, of course. But these methods have a catch, as everybody knows who's familiar with spam filters. If the property one is searching for is rare ('being a terrorist'), even the most accurate algorithm will produce tons of false positives.

I know, all of these points are wasted on those who'd need to consider them. Just wanted to list them for memorial purposes.