“Only if you’re doing something wrong should you worry, and then you don’t deserve to keep it private.”
Daniel Solove tackled this argument in 2011. As he points out, people making this argument misconstrue many aspects about what constitutes (personal) security and privacy.
“This issue isn’t about what information people want to hide but about the power and the structure of government.”
Thus, how much a government knows and monitors is indicative of that country’s governance. Our inability to know what they’re collecting, how they’re viewing this data and what they’re deducing from it should be our main concern. It is Kafkaesque as well as Orwellian, though it is because of the former that we should actually be concerned.
Legal and policy solutions [to these concerns] focus too much on the problems under the Orwellian metaphor—those of surveillance—and aren’t adequately addressing the Kafkaesque problems—those of information processing.
Innocent behaviour can be named suspicious, worthy of investigation; your life and personal freedom could be undermined due to powerful organisations deciding what your actions and “real” motivations are. On the justification of “protecting the country”, preemptive and harsh actions could be taken against you.
Also, it’s important to remember how a citizen’s privacy is lost.
“Privacy is rarely lost in one fell swoop. It is usually eroded over time, little bits dissolving almost imperceptibly until we finally begin to notice how much is gone”
Yes, it is a slippery slope argument, but – remember – slippery slopes are only fallacious when no causal connection is reasonably shown (with evidence). Solove portrays it using the environmental analogy.
Privacy is often threatened not by a single egregious act but by the slow accretion of a series of relatively minor acts. In this respect, privacy problems resemble certain environmental harms, which occur over time through a series of small acts by different actors. Although society is more likely to respond to a major oil spill, gradual pollution by a multitude of actors often creates worse problems.
The entire article makes for an excellent read.
I hope I encounter better arguments in favour of the NSA’s actions, but so far, I’ve not seen any. Do let me know if you come across good counters or better versions of “done no wrong, therefore I have no fear” argument.
As I hit publish, I recall that the incredible David Simon wrote one. The piece and – the gods shoot me now with the unicorn guns – the comments are quite valuable. Also see the follow up (where he adorably snarks at his son).