Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Nothing to hide"

Alonzo Fyfe on the argument that only those with something to hide should be concerned by expansive government spying.

“If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear from government spying.”

Anybody who utters this statement has illustrated the full height of his stupidity.

The problem is, the common citizen does not always get to decide whether he has something to hide. Sometimes, somebody else makes those decisions for him.

In Nazi Germany, “having something to hide” meant being a Jew, homosexual, gypsy, or even willing to work for regime change in the country. Imagine how much easier Hitler’s job would have been if the government already had a practice of wiretapping phones without a warrant and a database of every phone call that had ever been made by anybody in the country.

In America, in the 1950s, ‘having something to hide’ meant how you would answer the question, ‘have you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party.’ Imagine the situation in this country if, instead of asking people to name names, McCarthy simply needed to access a database of who had been calling whom in order to get his list of suspects.

In the 1960s, “having something to hide” meant being a part of the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King was viewed as a threat. Many people in government would have loved to have been able to plug his phone number into a database and get a list of everybody he had called as well as when and how long they talked.

In the 1970s, Nixon had an official “political enemies project”'s_Enemies_List which involved a program of using government tools such as IRS audits and legal harassment against those who dared to speak out against him. I suspect that, if this database had existed while he was President, he would have made use of it.

Other times in which Americans had “something to hide” included being Japanese American in 1940, or German American in the 1910s. It included being an escaped slave or being somebody who aided in the Underground Railroad in 1850. In the 1770s, it included anybody and everybody who was fighting for independence from England.
At the end of that post, Alonzo brings up a very interesting point about the NSA surveillance of American citizens being a spiritual, if not actual, violation of the 3rd Amendment, an excellent point which I must say I'm envious that I did not think of myself.

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