December 23rd, 2012
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Some good comments about why privacy is important:
The ability to gleam private details about people is having some power over them. The entire modern theory of government rests on limiting and dividing up the power of those in power. With mass surveillance, that balance is broken. Not only do we have private details on individuals, that knowledge is held by a small and unaccountable elite, protected by state secrets.
Even if you live completely lawfully and morally and truly have nothing to hide you can either:
1. Unwittingly do something illegal (there are too many laws on the books for anyone to know they are completely innocent); or do something that can be construed as such, since the police and prosecutors can be fallible;
2. Still live in a society where a small group of individuals can exert blackmail and intimidation on a significant proportion of citizens. Even if that power would be rarely used, it creates an environment of fear. People start to be afraid to speak against abuse, those in power stand less for their own scrutiny.
The “unwittingly do something illegal” is the most common refutation I’ve heard used. I think it’s the most powerful as an example of the fallacy of this argument and an example of how unwieldy our laws have become in the United States.
A coworker used the following story, apt since he lives in a state bordering another country: “Let’s say I go to Canada for a day trip, Montreal perhaps. I speak enough French to get around but it’s not so good after an evening of drinking and socializing. The next morning, I wake up with a powerful hangover headache. A pharmacy is nearby, but my head is pounding too hard to read the labels so I go to the pharmacist. In broken French, I ask him for some Tylenol. He asks me ‘what kind?’ ‘Just one,’ I reply. He sells me a small bottle with a Tylenol label; I pop a couple and put the rest in my bag. After I return home–declaring ‘nothing’ at the border, of course, since I forgot about the bottle of medicine–I find the bottle and notice the word ‘Codeine’ on the label. Canada sells ‘Tylenol One,’ a compound with this addition. I’m technically guilty of felony drug trafficking of a schedule 2 narcotic into the United States as well as felony concealment (drugs). Are you certain you’ve never done something seemingly innocent that’s actually a serious crime?”