Over the last few years a trend has grown, not only in the U.S., but in virtually all developed areas of the world, toward less privacy and more government intrusion into the personal lives of their citizen-subjects. Governments claim the power to make these intrusions in the name of security, and those who support the intrusions into personal privacy generally justify it by saying, “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.”
The truth is that the innocent actually do have something to fear from state intrusion into their private lives.
Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms (of government) those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. — Thomas Jefferson
The first thing one must realize is that it does happen here. Government abuse of power happens. That they’re American bureaucrats doesn’t make them any less prone to abusing whatever power and authority they have been granted or have seized for themselves. The long chain of abuses stretches from the birth of the nation right through to the present day, and from the bottom to the top. Open any newspaper from any day of any year and you’ll find at least one, if not several.
The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. — James Madison
It seems to be something in human nature to want to exercise power, and stretch it to its limits — and beyond. This is why the power granted to the federal government was supposed to be strictly limited and enumerated. And indeed, the people in the federal government have been exercising and stretching the limits of their power from day one. The founders would hardly recognize the government we have today and would be utterly shocked that we the people let it go on this long, when the war we fought for independence from Britain was for far less than we the people labor under today.
Abuse of power isn’t limited to bad guys in other nations. It happens in our own country if we’re not vigilant. — Thomas Edison
So, let’s take a look at whether innocent people have anything to hide.
This is a version of the very popular “The innocent have nothing to fear” argument, which is wheeled out whenever authorities wish to bring in new measures which increase surveillance or limit freedoms in the name of increasing security. For example, someone demands to search your luggage. You object to this intrusion on your privacy, but you are told that if you are innocent, you have no reason to object. After all, what are you trying to hide?
The argument is a particular species of false dichotomy. You are presented with a simple either/or choice. Either you’re guilty, and so should be exposed; or you are innocent, in which case nothing will be exposed, and so you have nothing to worry about. Either way, you have no legitimate reason to be concerned. Like all false dichotomies, the problem is that there is at least one more option than the two offered in the either/or choice. — Julian Baggini
What other option is there? There’s the very real possibility that you are innocent, and yet will be persecuted by the authorities anyway. And much of the time, the authorities will win. Consider Milwaukee, Wis., where police have a license to kill anyone they feel like killing, such as Frank Jude, whom police severely beat almost to death for the crime of driving while black. The officers in the case were acquitted by an all-white jury. One of the other officers in that case shot and killed another man, Larry Jenkins, for the crime of not driving while black. He was acquitted in that case, too. Sound like something out of Mississippi? It isn’t. This sort of thing happens all the time, all over the country.
It is weakness rather than wickedness which renders men unfit to be trusted with unlimited power. — John Adams
Former Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover was famous for abusing his power, as was his president, Richard Nixon. And so were countless bureaucrats before and after them. In 2004 and 2005, the FBI arrested and convicted 1,060 of them, in fact. Despite making corruption in government one of their top priorities just behind counterterrorism, the FBI has hardly made a dent in the problem, and humans being what they are, they probably never will.
The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first. — Thomas Jefferson
So why should innocent people insist on keeping things private from the government? Privacy helps to prevent these sorts of abuses of power. Our founders understood this. They insisted that we should always distrust our government, even though it may be constituted of our representatives, because they’re only human, after all.
Our country was founded on a distrust of government. Our founding fathers gave power to the people to keep an eye on government. So when politicians say, “Trust me,” they’re actually being very un-American. — David Duchovny
Back then, you had innocent people deported to England to stand trial on trumped-up charges. Today you have innocent people railroaded into guilty pleas by legal maneuvering, innocent people on death row for defending themselves from abuse of power, innocent people in Guantanamo Bay without a trial at all.
You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it or who says it. — Malcolm X
You think you’re so innocent, try proving it. That’s what “nothing to hide” is about: destroying the notion of innocent until proven guilty, meant to protect we the people from abuse of power, and instituting the barbaric notion of guilty until proven innocent, where anyone can be searched, anyone can be seized, and sometimes, even the trial can be dispensed with. It’s about getting Americans used to the idea of proving their innocence at every opportunity, putting them on trial at the airport or at the roadside. After all, anybody who doesn’t want to prove their innocence must be guilty of something.
It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one. — Voltaire
I reject the notion of guilty until proven innocent, and every American should as well. If you think I’m guilty, you prove it. I have nothing to prove. And I may have nothing to hide either, but you can’t see it.
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. — Thomas Jefferson