Key is going off the rails on his proposed GCSB spying Bill. An interesting piece in The Herald yesterday begins as follows:
Prime Minister John Key says Labour opposition to the GCSB spy agency amendment bill could prevent New Zealanders being safe in an event like the Boston bombings.
Fear card fail. Hey John, America has any number of spying capabilities and patriot laws, and they did not prevent the Boston bombings. Massive surveillance in London did not prevent the London bombings. We can’t prevent such events either – some things can’t be prevented. Using this as an excuse to try and justify increased spying on Kiwis is just pathetic.
But it got worse. Key went and said it. The classic justification for “police state” surveillance – if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. Here’s the Key version:
“What actually happens with national security is protecting the interests of New Zealanders, and if people aren’t doing something wrong, then it’s very unlikely they would be falling within the remit of the GCSB’s activities.”
“Very unlikely” that you’ll be spied on? In other words perfectly innocent people will be spied on. Probably lots of them, you can’t rule out those who have nothing to hide without casting a wide net, and that is what the government will do.
To believe the NTHNTF argument you need to trust the government. Given that Paula Bennett has already used personal information to attack beneficiaries, and remains a minister, there is no reason to trust this government. Historically surveillance has often been abused to spy on left-wing, environmental, or civil rights activists. What is to stop that happening in NZ? The reassurances of John Key? Even if you blindly believe Key, and trust this government, would you trust the next government? And the one after that? Are the right-wingers who will support GCSB spying happy with the idea that next year David Shearer might take over the reins? Or some time, the next Helen Clark?
Below are extracts from various responses to the NTHNTF argument. This first piece is by D J Solove, a professor of law at George Washington University. The essay an excerpt from his new book: Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security (Yale University Press):
Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’
…I encountered the nothing-to-hide argument so frequently in news interviews, discussions, and the like that I decided to probe the issue. I asked the readers of my blog, Concurring Opinions, whether there are good responses to the nothing-to-hide argument. I received a torrent of comments:
• My response is “So do you have curtains?” or “Can I see your credit-card bills for the last year?”
• So my response to the “If you have nothing to hide … ” argument is simply, “I don’t need to justify my position. You need to justify yours. Come back with a warrant.”
• I don’t have anything to hide. But I don’t have anything I feel like showing you, either.
• If you have nothing to hide, then you don’t have a life.
• Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.
• It’s not about having anything to hide, it’s about things not being anyone else’s business.
• Bottom line, Joe Stalin would [have] loved it. Why should anyone have to say more?
On the surface, it seems easy to dismiss the nothing-to-hide argument. Everybody probably has something to hide from somebody. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn declared, “Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find what it is.” Likewise, in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s novella “Traps,” which involves a seemingly innocent man put on trial by a group of retired lawyers in a mock-trial game, the man inquires what his crime shall be. “An altogether minor matter,” replies the prosecutor. “A crime can always be found.” …
Commentators often attempt to refute the nothing-to-hide argument by pointing to things people want to hide. But the problem with the nothing-to-hide argument is the underlying assumption that privacy is about hiding bad things. By accepting this assumption, we concede far too much ground and invite an unproductive discussion about information that people would very likely want to hide. As the computer-security specialist Schneier aptly notes, the nothing-to-hide argument stems from a faulty “premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong.” Surveillance, for example, can inhibit such lawful activities as free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy. …
One such harm, for example, which I call aggregation, emerges from the fusion of small bits of seemingly innocuous data. …
Another potential problem with the government’s harvest of personal data is one I call exclusion. …
A related problem involves secondary use. …
Yet another problem with government gathering and use of personal data is distortion. …
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. …
See the full essay for details. Another interesting essay by M Marlinspike develops the argument that “a crime can always be found”:
Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance
…Police already abuse the immense power they have, but if everyone’s every action were being monitored, and everyone technically violates some obscure law at some time, then punishment becomes purely selective. Those in power will essentially have what they need to punish anyone they’d like, whenever they choose, as if there were no rules at all….
Other extracts from this piece:
We Should Have Something To Hide
Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the U.S., such as the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of U.S. states.
As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the U.S. democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it’s true, the bills did pass.
What’s often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.
The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in Washington and Colorado, it was obviously not legal for personal use.
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in Minnesota, Colorado, and Washington since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?
The cornerstone of liberal democracy is the notion that free speech allows us to create a marketplace of ideas, from which we can use the political process to collectively choose the society we want. …
Similar points are made in the following pieces:
We all have something to hide from Big Brother, we just don’t know it yet, and
IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR.
What about the surveillance data from a technical point of view? Given the positive litany of privacy breaches that this government has delivered to us, how can they be trusted with any more data? The following piece from Computer Weekly considers privacy from a more technical point of view:
Debunking a myth: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear
“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” (NTHNTF) is a myth that is built on certain false assumptions, and these assumptions are never questioned when it is wheeled out as an argument to support whatever draconian surveillance measure is being pushed out in the face of citizen opposition (commercial organisations rarely try such an approach, since it dooms them to failure from the very beginning). These assumptions include:
- Continuity: When a large data gathering exercise is started, the lifespan of the system will almost always be greater than that of its instigators. The most benign and caring government, authority or private company is inevitably subject to a change of management, and if the new executive does not share their moral stance, then data can be reused for very dangerous purposes. Those who provided data believing they had nothing to fear may find that data is misused in the future.
- Context: Those who use the NTHNTF argument most commonly use it in the context of government collecting information about individuals. In the information age, the idea of a single entity holding that information does not hold true. The massive pressures to share information within and beyond government mean that information is constantly on the move. Sooner or later, information held by the government will be shared across the government and with the private sector.
- Control: Whether through a sharing agreement, aggregation of databases or simply leaving a memory stick in a pub car park, information is always shared sooner or later. Information security professionals always assume a system to be insecure, and plan for when – not if – data is lost or corrupted.
- Consistency: The most important issue is that of consistent use of accurate information across all authorities and all individuals.
… So why do I fear the idea of a database state, even when I have “nothing to hide”? Well, I do have things to hide. Everyone has things to hide. If I have a serious health concern, I want to be able to consult my GP without worrying my wife. If I’m looking for a new job, there is no reason why I should have to reveal that to my employer. In fact, if even I’ve committed a serious crime, been convicted, rehabilitated and paid my debt to society, why should I be obliged to reveal that history to my neighbours if I pose no threat to them? Should my friends know if I’ve got an unauthorised overdraft, or if I’ve downloaded perfectly legal adult content from the Internet? I’ve done none of these things, and am in no particular rush to, but I demand the right to privacy if those situations arise.
“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is a myth, a fallacy, a trojan horse wheeled out by those who can’t justify their surveillance schemes, databases and privacy invasions. It is an argument that insults intelligent individuals and disregards the reality of building and operating an IT system, a business or even a government. If ever you hear someone at a dinner party crank out this old chestnut, grab your coat, make your apologies, run fast and run far. And as William has said before, I wouldn’t want to be stuck at a dinner party next to someone who has nothing to hide – imagine how dull that would be.
That’s a lot of reading already, but I also have to include a link to Frank Macskasy’s epic post as The Daily Blog that looks at some of the NZ history and context of this debate.
OK, winding up. Key’s NTHNTF argument is bollocks because:
(1) increased surveillance will not provide the protection that is being used to justify its introduction, and
(2) we can’t trust this government to either use these powers responsibly or protect the data, and
(3) there are many reasons to want privacy even if we aren’t breaking any laws.
Final word to Benjamin Franklin: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.