Tuesday, August 29, 2006

So, you think you have nothing to hide?

This is going to ramble a bit. It’s also to be published in a few places, and hopefully the ensuing discussion will help me understand the issues raised that strike a chord with folk, and those that don’t.

I just don’t understand many Americans. On the one hand, they claim to be a society of cherished freedoms. Yet, at the same time, appear willing to sacrifice those freedoms at the drop of a hat, anytime someone with even the teensiest amount of positional authority tells them it is necessary.

Some Americans hold the ACLU, for example, in utter disdain yet, in the next breath will describe how they cherish the Constitution and *people fought and died to bring us freedoms, doncha know?*. The irony of this position is lost, and it baffles me.

Currently, the 4th Amendment is under attack. The 4th, for those that don’t know works like this:

The American people effectively have a privacy bill. The Brits don’t, and many want one. It says, paraphrased, that a person shall be free from intrusion into their private affairs, unless a Government agency can show *probable cause*, and that any other searches are *unreasonable* and, therefore, unconstitutional.

Now to most Americans the Constitution is absolute (this can vary a bit depending on Supreme Court decisions), and it the very bedrock upon which this nation is built. Part of my problem is simply that it is a unique document, and I have only 2 year’s experience of it. But absolute it is and, with respect to the 4th, you can’t argue that the Founding Fathers didn’t know what they were doing when they included it, without accepting that if that is the case, they may not have known what they were doing when they wrote the rest of it.

So the 4th can only be interpreted by the Supreme Court, it is, after all, their reason for being.

Why then, are so many prepared to accept so many commonplace *unlawful searches*, that many aren’t even a cause for comment. A particularly good example of this would be Field Sobriety Tests. They are, by any estimation intrusive, and entirely subjective. The only purpose of a FST is to provide a Police Officer with evidence to convict you, and, as such, also breaches the 5th Amendment. You know, the one that gives you an absolute right not to provide evidence that will incriminate you. If the Police wish to determine your blood alcohol levels, then there are entirely OBJECTIVE ways to do this, none of which involves the performing of humiliating circus stunts at the side of the road ….. yet, everyday, thousands of Americans think they have to comply with this ridiculous request, for no better reason, it appears, than they were told they had to! Beside which I never could rub my tummy and pat my head at the same time as walking in a straight line all the while balancing a small child on my nose …. I don’t think that last bit is part of the test but hey! Why not?
I hear the justification for this acceptance of authoritarianism time and again …..

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about !!!!

This argument is about as fatally flawed as you can get, on oh so many levels.

The authors of the Constitution knew a thing or two. They knew, for example, that although a system of government is *pure*, the people who run it are not. They knew that they had to provide a guaranteed set of checks on government so one thing they did was to include the 1st Amendment. This enshrines the freedom of the press; surely a group who could be relied upon to expose duplicity and guard the freedoms of the nation ….. Hmmmm …. Well I suspect the intention was good, but in any event, the point remains.

Systems are honest, systems have no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas. The people running them, however, have both, and often are shown to be dishonest too. There is a great deal of power in information … any information no matter how trivial or *non-incriminating* you might think it is. For example. Suppose your grocery bills were generally available for scrutiny. Let’s futher suppose that you went to Walmart and bought nicotine patches, and speculate that Walmart sold that information to the Insurance companies. It’s gonna be tough to prove you weren’t smoking (in contravention to the clauses in your life insurance policy), when you are dead, and they are trying to reduce or deny the payout to your widow.

Another ….. Suppose you suddenly found youself asked to resign from the PTA, or the School Board, and didn’t understand why. Maybe you made some lifestyle choice that, while perfectly legal and unrelated to education, someone used information held by a government agency to force you out. The point here is simple ….. the government shouldn’t have that information unless it specifically addresses an issue that gives *probable cause* in a crime. They one absolutely guaranteed implication of widespread data gathering is that there will be calls for the said data to be shared. The arguments will be couched in terms of *law enforcement*, *war on terrorism* …. Fill in the blanks, there are hundreds. The point of all that is that however *sensible* it appears, indeed if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, it’s a direct breach of two, count ‘em, amendments to the Constitution.

What if the only thing you have to hide is the fact that, despite years of misery and struggle, your wife or husband is unable to quit smoking. Then your employer fires you, because her/his health records came to light unlawfully or otherwise, and he wished to reduce his company’s health care bill by firing all employees who smoked, or whose family members smoked. It’s quite possible you and your spouse had shared that information with dozens of agencies, some governmental, some not in an attempt to be honest, and get support. Just bit you in the ass, didn’t it?

We are entitled to privacy not because we have anything to hide, but because the Constitution says so, and because the information is ours, not owned by others whose motives and ambitions may be dishonest, manipulative, or simply different to our own.

Why has it suddenly because somehow suspicious, to exercise Constitutional rights? You may think you have nothing to hide, but there is an underlying statement when you make the point to others. Effectively, you are arguing that the illegal intrusions you are prepared to accept because *you have nothing to hide*, somehow comments adversely on those who are rather less willing to share. Often it is even couched the other way around: *Well …. If you have nothing to hide ….*

It’s insidious …. And it should be resisted.

I dunno, maybe I just see it wrong!