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Nothing to Hide

Hey, I'm innocent! I have nothing to hide!
Hey, I'm innocent! I have nothing to hide!

Nothing to Hide? Really?

People like to spout this phrase all the time saying that the only people worried about privacy are criminals and someone up to no good. Is that the case though?

The definition of privacy that I like best is The right of an individual to choose what personal information is given to who and when. That is, I can choose to tell my wife about a rash on my butt, but wouldn't necessarily like my coworkers to know about it. It's not like I have to hide it, but I'd prefer only some people know.

People hide things all the time. Why do people have curtains? So they can choose when someone can see into their house, and when they can't. Why do people dress in dressing rooms instead of in the aisles at the store? Why do we have an issue when a stranger asks our daughter's name, where do we live, and what's her favorite candy?

It's a proven fact that there are more strangers than people you know.

It's a proven fact that there are more strangers than people you know. While there may be some percentage of complete strangers who will treat your private life with the same care and diligence as a close friend or family member would, another segment of those strangers won't. Another segment of those strangers will not just be careless with your data, they'll use it specifically against you for their benefit (identity thieves for example).

Unless you have some sort of list of who are the good people and who are the bad, there's nothing wrong with playing it safe and keeping your information to yourself. In fact, it's quite irresponsible to offer private information to just anyone.

Why should I care? I've done nothing wrong

I don't need a lawyer because I'm innocent! Right?
I don't need a lawyer because I'm innocent! Right?

Have you ever heard of a wrongful conviction case? That's where someone went to jail for a crime they didn't commit. Sometimes it's an innocent mistake, but sometimes politicians and prosecutors are under so much pressure to make someone pay that they're not very careful about who actually goes to jail.

What about all those victims of con artists or identity thieves? Did they do something wrong? Most of the time, the answer is no, but they still found their information used against them.

There are the people who leave product boxes for their new plasma TV out at the curb who come home one day to find that their house has been broken into and the TV (and other things) are gone. Or maybe they kept the family up-to-date with their vacation cruise and similarly came home to a ransacked house.

In all these cases, no one did anything wrong, but because the bad guys knew too much, they were able to victimize innocent people.

Nothing to Hide Retorts/Responses

Here is a set of some of the better retorts I've come up with. Note that in none of these cases have you done anything wrong so you have "nothing to hide", but you will (or should) keep it hidden anyway:

The "Avoiding Evil People" Retort

People don't come with forehead labels

People don't come with forehead labels like "honest person", "hardworking citizen", "serial killer", "stalker/rapist", "kind fatherly gentlemen", "child abuser", or "con artist". If they did, it would be easy to tell who to be honest with and who to keep information from or lie to outright. The fact is that you don't have to have done something wrong to draw the attention of a sick, evil, twisted person.

Every piece of information you give to someone who wants to hurt you makes it easier for them to do it. Since you can't tell the difference between "Just a nice guy" and Mr. "Wants to cut you into little pieces and keep you in a jar on his mantle", you are putting yourself and your family in danger every time you are free and loose with information.

The "Let The Past Rest" Retort

Everyone has the right to let personal past mistakes be buried forever. If you long ago dated someone who eventually became a widely publicized serial killer, chances are you'd prefer people didn't know about it. Or let's just say that you became pregnant as a teen (or got someone pregnant), but lost the baby. It's a painful personal matter and no one's business. There are a probably a million other examples of things that you would rather not share and because they hurt no one and nothing (other than you), there's no reason why you should.

The "Others Could Destroy You" Retort

Corrupt lawyers, jealous co-workers, ex-lovers may all be motivated to paint you as someone you're not. With the right kinds of data, they can make you look like you are biased, predisposed, violent, or anything else for that matter. Most importantly, they can make you look guilty of something when you're not just because they proved that you lied about something, hid something, or flustered and confused you. The important factor here is that they have something to gain by bringing you down and there's no sense in handing them the knife they use to stab you with.

The "Data Travels Far" Retort

With enough tidbits of data, it's possible to know far more about you than you originally intended. Businesses will use this data to profile you and exploit your weaknesses for money

Large organizations (businesses, government) are, by definition, full of people. Some are nice, some are not. Even worse, information they hold has a habit of leaking away to even more people you don't know. When you give information to organizations like these, you have no idea how many people or what kind of people will end up in possession of it.

Most dangerous is the possibility of the various little bits of information being combined into a larger pool of data about you. With enough tidbits of data, it's possible to know far more about you than you originally intended. Businesses will use this data to profile you and exploit your weaknesses for money (e.g., the payday loan market). The government will use it to assess your worth and adjust your freedoms accordingly (think of the no-fly list or the Japanese internment camps of WWII).

The "Their Ignorance Will Hurt You" Retort

Let's say your father WAS a famous serial killer or you have a little-understood disease. Though your whole life, you've tried to be open about it hoping people wouldn't hold it against you, but you learned the hard way what ignorant fear will make people do (ex. Ryan White). After years of bullying and vandalism, you move to a new town and change your name hoping to start a new life.


Now, can we agree that there are tons of cases where fully innocent people with "nothing to hide" can, will, and should keep information private from friends, family, neighbors, and even police? Yes? Good.

So, once again, here is the loathsome phrase:

"Why does it matter? If you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide"
Make sure you never, EVER let yourself say you have nothing to hide and if you ever hear someone else say it, slap them (or more specifically, share this page with them).
Guide Navigation
prev: The Geek Privacy Principle|INDEX|next: Data Abuse

The Basics

The Geek Privacy Principle: an argument for why you should choose to keep information to yourself most of the time.
Ever heard someone say they have Nothing to Hide? Learn why that's such a bad thing and what you can say in response when you hear it.

Current Dangers to Privacy

Data Abuse - Companies buy and sell all kinds of data about you from the foods you like to the color of your hair to the names and ages of your kids.
RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification - Companies are beginning to use tiny radio transmitters on products and in clothing to track your movements and add it to their profiles on you for marketing purposes.

Protecting Your Privacy

Build a Privacy Alias/Persona to give to people or organizations you don't trust.
Data Defense - Learn how to keep your information to yourself.

2 Comments to “Nothing to Hide”

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>> Large organizations (businesses, government) are, by definition, full of people. Some are nice, some are not.

I’ve just finished reading an old book by George Soros. In it he mentions that he behaves differently depending on his role. As a hedge fund manager, he is amoral and coldly calculating. As a philanthropist, he goes out of his way to spend his time and money to help people in need, even calling on his old contacts in various governments and taking risks with his personal safety.

In other words, just because your nice harmless neighbor John Doe could be trusted to look after your little girl when you have an emergency, does not mean he will not specifically write an ad or create sales-copy to target your emotional weak points to make you buy his employer’s products while he is at work.

Another quite common retort is “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then please show me all your passwords, biometric data, tell me where you keep your money at home, how to open your strongbox etc.

I won’t use it against you because that would be illegal of course… so go ahead.”

How to Steal Identities - Why It's So Easy
Credit Freeze
Data Defense
Credit Monitoring
Id Theft Insurance
The Identity Theft Victim's Mini-Guide to Recovery
The Geek Privacy Principle
Nothing to Hide
Data Abuse
RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification
Privacy Alias/Persona
Data Defense
Online Addiction
The Consequences of Posting Online
Photo Safety
Tricks and Scams
Account Hijacking
Trusting Companies
Bad Passwords
Password Tips and Tricks
Password Protection
Password Mugging
Computer Security
E-mail Safety
Kids and Computers
Shopping Online
All About Warranties

The Geek Privacy Principle

The most basic principle of privacy is to be able to choose who knows what about you and when. The Geek Principle describes why you should choose by default not to share information.

[Click for full description]

Nothing to Hide

Do you say "I have nothing to hide" or do people you know say it to YOU? Read this tutorial about why no one should ever say they have nothing to hide again.

[Click for full description]

Data Abuse

Learn how your data is taken from you and used against you by large companies for their own benefit.

[Click for full description]

RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification

One of the most risky technology when it comes to your privacy is Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID). These radio chips broadcast your identity sometimes hundreds of feet and can be found in passports, farecards, credit cards, and even some clothing.

[Click for full description]

Privacy Alias/Persona

Sometimes you are required to give away information to be able to get service, but you know the company has no real need of your data other than to share and sell it. In these cases, having a personalized alias comes in handy.

This guide will explain in more detail why you should have one and how to create it.

[Click for full description]

Data Defense

One of the most important, but least understood, threats against us today is the creeping data-abuse by companies seeking to compile complete profiles on every American in order to enable "targeted marketing".

Until laws are in place to control their use of your data, learn the tips and tricks to make it harder for them while improving your identity-theft defense at the same time.

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