Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

Summary:There is no such thing as "I have nothing to hide". Everyone has something to hide, and there will be someone out there who will pay to see what it is.

I look back over my 'check in' history on Facebook, and it is practically non-existent. I do not use Facebook 'check in' or geo-location facilities whatsoever, outside of Google Maps on my BlackBerry when I am truly and hopelessly lost in a foreign city.

In fact, the last time I did use Facebook 'check in' was to prove it could be used to spoof your location to anywhere in the world, from the Queen's private quarters to the MI6 building.

I practically killed Foursquare in the process.

Only last week, I forced a friend of mine to de-tag me and remove a post which revealed my check-in location -- even though I was under the belief that my Facebook friends could not tag me in their location-based feature.

I do not want my friends, my contacts or anyone else -- ranging from private companies to product manufacturers, all the way up to governments, knowing where I am at any given moment in time. Nor do I want companies both public and private to target advertisements at me based on my prior browsing history, my past purchases or even the size of certain appendages.

What is the solution? Disable web access on my machines? Permanently affix a foil helmet to my head? Unfortunately, there is nothing I can really do, because the web, though a wonderful resource for academia and entertainment, has turned into a surveillance borderless state of its own.

As you will discover next week, I have spent a year of my life researching in meticulous detail an area of US domestic and foreign policy, which allows the US government to access and inspect data held in foreign datacenters, provided a set of very common conditions are met -- which they often are.

With this, there are two camps of people to consider. The "I have nothing to hide" camp, who believe that though companies will hold data on them, provided they do nothing wrong or have done nothing wrong, then there is nothing there which can be used against them, either civilly or criminally.

This doesn't account for those who are accused without foundation, however. Many people are victims of miscarriages of civil and criminal justice each year. It takes only a quick look at the ACS:Law who accused many innocent people of downloading illegal content.

However, the other end of the spectrum is the other camp of people: the "I want to control my own privacy" person. But the word "privacy" has become meshed and convoluted in times of modern day, relating to everything from your location to your browsing habits or Facebook settings.

I personally believed I had nothing to hide, but everyone has something to hide. Nobody is entirely open about every aspect in their life, from sexual fetishes all the way down to family secrets and prior criminal convictions.

By simply reading this, the vast majority of you will have thought of instantly "the one thing you want to hide from the world". I don't blame you, because I did as I wrote it.

Just think for a second: knowing full well that your Internet provider records and holds your web browsing history, regardless of whether you use privacy blockers or in-built browser settings, are you sure they don't have a record of something deeply personal to you?

This past year, I have been working on criticising a crucial element in US counter-terrorism legislation. Paranoia aside, I do not want to indirectly or directly aggravate or annoy one of the most powerful governments in the world. So yes, over this past year I have had a lot to hide from US authorities -- because I, like many others, believe in the freedom of the press, but am acutely aware there are limits when the words of "national security" are uttered.

You may not care if your, or any government, or an intelligence service knows where you are or what you are doing. But you have no idea what they are doing with it. It could be being used against you, though arguably it could have been used to rule you out of something. These things often go hand in hand, or one over the other.

Just think: if you are refused a job with a government department, could it have been something you said, or even something you posted on Facebook? Do you want to take the risk, even though both you and I truly and honestly do not know without merely speculating?

So before you think, "I have nothing to hide", and fall into the same belief of former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, as he said that, "if you want privacy, you have something to hide", think again. Everyone has something they want to hide, and can you guarantee that you haven't tripped up somewhere, and made or alluded to something you do not want anyone else to know? 

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Government, Government : US, Legal

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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