Nothing to hide, nothing to fear… sound about right?

Published May 30, 2020 by Xiph

The pitfalls and perils of surveillance apathy

Right now, at this very moment, several privacy-minded individuals around Australia are having the same conversation with their grandmother. 

Nan, you realise that they are monitoring every single thing you do and tracking everywhere you go, every single minute of every day?”

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear

If only Nan knew that her response is shared by so many that it has its own wikipedia page . It’s called the ‘nothing to hide argument’. Silly stereotypes aside, people of all ages, races and creeds respond to government and corporate surveillance of both our digital and real-world lives with a kind of smug straightening of the posture and then…

“I have nothing to hide, therefore nothing to fear.”

I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s not my kind that they’re after.”

Well, whatever they’re doing must be working. We’re seeing less crime?”

Moving on…

The basic premise of the ‘nothing to hide argument’ is that government mass surveillance measures have no impact on individual privacy. If by some chance an individual is discovered to have done something criminal, then why should they enjoy privacy in the first place? The basic implication here is that there are only two kinds of people being watched: the innocents and the criminals. In other words, those with nothing to hide and those with something to hide.

The Truman Show” Reboot is already happening

Way back in 1998 (when technological) dinosaurs roamed the earth, Jim Carrey, playing a happy-go-lucky insurance salesman named Truman Burbank, became the first subject of his own 24/7 “reality” television show. It was set inside an enormous domed film set where he was filmed from the moment of his birth until he turned 29. For three decades, Truman’s every waking movement, however private, was captured by thousands of hidden cameras. After discovering that he was just a lucrative piece of surveillance capital, he also discovered that no matter which corner he rounded or pole he hid behind, a camera would find him. 

Enough about films, let’s talk about the real world – here are the facts

CCTV cameras have been in public spaces for decades. First, in places that saw more foot traffic. Now, it seems every back alley and barn is being filmed and recorded. While we’re not exactly on China’s level, which is home to roughly 200 million CCTV cameras, Australia’s stockpile has doubled in the past decade to well over a million, with over 300,000 in NSW alone. This increase is relevant because the cameras aren’t merely aimed at identifying teenagers in hoodies stealing slurpees. They’re there because, amongst other planned exploits, these cameras are set to be linked to a national database of every single Australian driver’s licence and passport photo, for instantaneous biometric matching. 

Soon, thanks to cameras and our unsecured personal devices we could all be Truman, or perhaps we already are. 

You may not be able to hide behind the social media wall

When the ‘nothing to hide’ camp is probed about their social media presence, their response is usually in the vein of – well, I don’t post anything other than cat videos and pictures of poached eggs. Just last year, Turnbull’s government proposed new laws that would require social media and technology companies to allow Australian security agencies access to people’s encrypted messages. Which means it’s not merely your public-facing contributions to Facebook, Google and the like, but your private conversations too. 

Those still unfazed by such possibilities probably aren’t considering the power of spin. Comb through anyone’s entire history of private communications and you are guaranteed to find multiple instances of statements or sentiments that can be taken out of context, misinterpreted, manipulated, bastardised, amplified… Anything cast in the right light can be made to look suspect – even it’s squeaky clean and unimpeachable.

You may have nothing to hide, but you can’t see what’s hidden. 

And what about the world around you?
Okay, take a breath and consider the following:

  • Journalists and whistleblowers are often under direct surveillance to quash criticisms of governments, big business and law enforcement
  • Lawyer-client confidentiality, an essential component of justice, has been spied on and even recorded. 
  • Abusers now have new tools to terrorise their victims, man are women and children
  • Something you’ve said or linked to on social media often influences employers, raises insurance premiums and affects your ability to secure a loan. 

Sadly, this is far from a comprehensive list. The more technology advances, the more potential for surveillance-based control and power-grabbing. The more subtle and subliminal technological innovation becomes, the harder it becomes to know when and where you are being watched, monitored, (data) scraped or by whom. 

And worse is yet to come if the ‘nothing to fear’ camp becomes an army. 

Everyone… watch this space.



Posted in: Security

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