Pay No Attention to the Man Peeping Behind the Curtain

A little preamble: I’m a big fan of the Linoleum Knife podcast. I’ve been stalking following Dave White and Alonso Duralde off and on since they were djmrswhite and moroccomole over on Livejournal, for goodness’ sake. They’re insightful and funny and an adorable couple and you should just listen to them because I’m surely doing a poor job of pimping them.

Listening was exactly what I was doing today, to this week’s episode, when Duralde and this week’s guest, Sean Abley, came to a bit of an impasse on the question of Edward Snowden and NSA domestic espionage during a review of Citizenfour.

It started as a discussion of whether Snowden is a traitor. I have opinions on that score, but I recognize I’ve not done a lot of deep reading on the subject, so I’m willing to lay that one aside and let folks present arguments in either direction.

Then the discussion turned to questions of NSA spying, specifically, at which point … Abley’s exact words were “I have nothing to lose.” If I’m skewing Abley’s position too much, I’ll apologize right here. I mention it at all because his statement acted as the catalyst for my responding to something that’s rankled me for a while, as–to my mind–it fell right in the space of the “it doesn’t affect me / I have nothing to hide” mentality on these issues. About that, I have some much more deeply held beliefs:

It is not now, nor has it ever been (all the way back to before we even had a Fourth Amendment), about whether someone has something to hide. First, of course, is the implication that the only reason someone would want to keep something private is because it’s incriminating or evil in some way. Which is so much bullshit I can’t even see straight.

By this logic, it should be perfectly all right for the police to knock on my front door whenever they like, toss my apartment until it looks like a tornado came through, then be on their way. They should be able to stop me on the way to work and rifle through my car on a whim. Hell, my nosy neighbor who’s been dying to get a look at my apartment should be able to walk on in at 2 a.m. and have a look so long as he doesn’t steal anything. I mean, I don’t have anything to hide, right?

That the side effects of the virtual rifling of one’s life aren’t as physically apparent doesn’t mean they don’t exist. How many times have we been told not to share our passwords, because then we’ve lost our ability to control our accounts? Every time my information is collated and shunted around to somewhere I didn’t ask for it to go, the net effect is the same: it’s out of my control, and since I didn’t set the controls on the new access, I have no idea what may or may not happen.

But you have nothing to hide, right? So there’s no harm!

Think about that bit of gossip back in high school, where someone got hold of some half-truth left lying in the open (or nowhere near the open) and turned it into the scandal for the day. Write it larger by using the same model for any number of gossip mongering “news” sites.

No harm? Somebody tell that to Jennifer Lawrence. Or Felicia Day. Or Anita Sarkeesian.

Information is power. Power can be abused.

But this is the government, not some reprobate!

The government is full of people. People are flawed. They do things you don’t expect. Like, you know, Snowden. That I may be sympathetic to Snowden’s actions doesn’t change the fact that he’s a perfect example of the fact that the government’s desire to keep something secret and confidential is no guarantee that it stays that way.

Even if I somehow suffer head trauma that leads me to agree that there are no negative consequences to someone taking information that isn’t incriminating, at the end of the day, I still don’t agree this should grant the government carte blanche access.

I don’t keep my address book in a drawer instead of posting it on my front windows just because who I know is proof of a criminal conspiracy. If I knew any criminals, I’d be as shocked as anybody.

I don’t oppose random drug testing because I’m a junkie. I’ve never used any illicit substances in my entire life. I’ve never even had enough alcohol to get a buzz going.

I don’t even close my blinds when I’m dressing because there’s something criminal or shameful about my naked body. I could stand to lose a few pounds, but we aren’t anywhere yet where that gets me thrown in jail.

There are plenty of reasons why a person might choose not to broadcast one or more pieces of information, and a wide swath of those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with crime or any other “bad” motive. But I don’t even have to catalog those, because the only reason I need is this:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In other words, the relevant question isn’t “what do you have to hide?” It’s “what the hell business is it of theirs?”

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