Think you have nothing to hide? Here’s why you’re wrong

Paul Raven @ 27-05-2011

Regular readers will know my deep antipathy to the pro-surveillance canard “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”, so they’ll also know exactly why I’m linking to and quoting from this lengthy and careful debunking of it [via TechDirt]:

Legal and policy solutions focus too much on the problems under the Orwellian metaphor—those of surveillance—and aren’t adequately addressing the Kafkaesque problems—those of information processing. The difficulty is that commentators are trying to conceive of the problems caused by databases in terms of surveillance when, in fact, those problems are different.

Commentators often attempt to refute the nothing-to-hide argument by pointing to things people want to hide. But the problem with the nothing-to-hide argument is the underlying assumption that privacy is about hiding bad things. By accepting this assumption, we concede far too much ground and invite an unproductive discussion about information that people would very likely want to hide. As the computer-security specialist Schneier aptly notes, the nothing-to-hide argument stems from a faulty “premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong.” Surveillance, for example, can inhibit such lawful activities as free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy.

The deeper problem with the nothing-to-hide argument is that it myopically views privacy as a form of secrecy. In contrast, understanding privacy as a plurality of related issues demonstrates that the disclosure of bad things is just one among many difficulties caused by government security measures. To return to my discussion of literary metaphors, the problems are not just Orwellian but Kafkaesque. Government information-gathering programs are problematic even if no information that people want to hide is uncovered. In The Trial, the problem is not inhibited behavior but rather a suffocating powerlessness and vulnerability created by the court system’s use of personal data and its denial to the protagonist of any knowledge of or participation in the process. The harms are bureaucratic ones—indifference, error, abuse, frustration, and lack of transparency and accountability.

Essential reading. Go now.


NASA debunks the 2012 Mayan apocalypse myth

Paul Raven @ 13-11-2009

Grand Jaguar pyramid - Tikal, GuatemalaNASA has taken a step into the rough-and-tumble world of conspiracy theory by posting a point-by-point debunking of the 2012 apocalypse meme, brought to public prominence by the recent movie based upon it [image by auntjojo]. You’ve got to admire the blunt certainty of it – here’s the first of the Q&As:

Q: Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.
A: Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.

(Personally I’d have worded that more carefully, just for the sake of covering my own back. Nothing bad will happen in 2012? Nothing at all?)

The 2012 thing has been kicking around for quite a long while, at least if you move in the right circles. I was a dedicated student of conspiracy theory and speculative archaeology for a long, long time (old habits die hard – I still admire these stories for their tenacity and narrative zing), and I first encountered the idea of 2012 as an Omega point for humanity in the writings of Terence McKenna, who had that date as the end-point of his “Timeline Zero” novelty theory… which reads kind of like a psychedelic/spiritual equivalent to the Technological Singularity theories of Vinge and Kurzweil, interestingly enough (and is well worth investigating if you have any interest in anthropology, cultural evolution, psychedelic experiences, or all three – start with Food of the Gods).

The end of the Mayan calendar’s Long Count has provided a convenient hook for a lot of other related theories and marginal occult weirdnesses, too… Graham Hancock suggested it as a link to some form of cyclic geological apocalypse (if I remember correctly… crustal slippage, magnetic field reversal, maybe some combo of those two and something else), and a number of the people obsessed by the famous Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull have glommed on to the calendar’s end date as a critical moment in future history (though some suggest it will be a “soft apocalypse”, a return of benevolent deities to the abandoned tribes of the Earth or somesuch).

Most damning of all for the 2012 theory is that the Mayans themselves tend to denounce it as complete bunk, not to mention an exploitative twisting of their traditional beliefs that is putting a lot of money into the pockets of entertainment companies but none into their own. Having read quite a few of them, I suspect many of the earlier occult/secret-history theorists were motivated more by genuine (if misguided) belief, but the recent band-wagon pile-on by Big Media is a different kettle of fish entirely – we all love a good End Of The World riff, after all, and with a well-known temporal hook like that, well, you’d be a fool to pass over it, right?

Or perhaps Hollywood knows the truth, and the 2012 movie is a cynical attempt to scrape a little more hard cash out of us all so that the Secret Masters can finish building their space ark and flee the planet in the company of Xenu and his rainbow panoply of space-deities. Which, come to think of it, perfectly explains why NASA are debunking the story: it’s a straight-faced double-bluff! HOW MANY OF YOU WILL BE SAVED, NASA? EH? HOW MANY OF YOUR RICHEST AND MOST POWERFUL EMPLOYEES WILL BE RESCUED IN THE FINAL DAYS, LEAVING THE REST OF US TO REAP THE ANGER OF THE UNSEATED COSMIC BALANCE AT THE END OF ALL TIME? WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON THE GRASSY KNOLL? WHAT WAS THE SECRET THAT DROVE HOWARD HUGHES SO CRAZY THAT HE HAD TO BE POISONED INTO A STATE OF CATALEPTIC INCOMPREHENSION? WHY HAVE YOU NEVER DEBUNKED THE WORKS OF ERICH VON DANIKEN, EH?

Oh, hello, Doctor – I didn’t hear you come in! Is it the red pills today, or the green ones? Sometimes I lose track of the sequence, the colours can be so… distracting…