If You Are Totally Shameless You Have Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

Last week in privacy law we discussed Daniel J. Solove’s excellent article “Why Privacy Matters Even If You Have ‘Nothing to Hide.’” Solove addresses the tension between government -related policies and practices and privacy rights, a tension many resolve by saying “I don’t care if the government listens to my calls/reads my email/attaches a GPS to my car because I have done nothing wrong, have nothing to be ashamed of, and therefor have nothing to hide.” Such a position equates privacy with secrecy, and nothing more. Solove’s point is that privacy

is too complex a concept to be reduced to a singular essence. It is a plurality of different things that do not share any one element but nevertheless bear a resemblance to one another. For example, privacy can be invaded by the disclosure of your deepest secrets. It might also be invaded if you’re watched by a peeping Tom, even if no secrets are ever revealed. With the disclosure of secrets, the harm is that your concealed information is spread to others. With the peeping Tom, the harm is that you’re being watched. You’d probably find that creepy regardless of whether the peeper finds out anything sensitive or discloses any information to others.

Solove goes on to discuss other privacy-related harms that can occur from government information-gathering programs and concludes that we should conceive of privacy as concept that embraces many interests, not secrecy alone.

The article by Cindy Gallop titled “Should we do away with privacy?” presents the “I’ve got nothing to hide perspective” so extremely that on first reading I thought it a parody:

If you identify exactly who you are and what you stand for, what you believe in, what you value, and if you then only ever behave, act and communicate in a way that is true to you, then you never have to worry about where anybody comes across you or what you’re found doing.  By definition you are never caught doing anything to be ashamed of.

What Gallop fails to acknowledge is that humans have an innate right to choose whether, how, and not to share personal information with others. (Gallop is an advertising consultant. Quelle surprise.) After suggesting how to implement this concept Gallop says

Now in a world of transparency, I am essentially unblackmail-able. I’m unblackmail-able because I have a secondary venture called Make Love Not Porn, and I launched it at the TED conference [organisation that promotes ideas] in 2009.

Once you have stood up on the stage at TED and announced that you have sex with younger men, no-one can ever shame or embarrass you ever again. So I live my life completely in the open, and that is an enormously stress free and relaxing way to be.

And by the way I realise that I am quite an extreme example of this, but the principles are the same for everybody.

Maybe this is a parody after all.

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  • Anand Brahmbhatt

    So one of the first things that came to mind as I read this article last week was: yes, I know we don’t have to hide things if we don’t have anything to hide, and we could be very disclosing about our lives. But the truth is, the argument for “nothing to hide” doesn’t really work out in my mind. Just because you don’t have something to hide, doesn’t mean you want to reveal it. It’s about social etiquette in some ways, and social construction in others. People behave in a certain way in public because that’s what society allows us to do. Why wear clothes if you’ve got nothing to hide? Let’s not think of the fact that it’s illegal, but the fact that people wouldn’t do that. It’s just how we roll. We do things just because we’re used to them, and they make sense to us now. It’s like making the argument of why use a fork and spoon if your hands are clean? We do it because we don’t want to make a mess of a situation. People perceive things differently, we don’t want to offend anyone. But privacy is important not because you are entitled to hide things– but because you have a right to show the world what you want. 

  • Anand Brahmbhatt

    I’ll have more to say about this later — but the one thing that just hit me was the Grokster case. I went onto Grokster’s website when we were assigned the case and the case analysis — and the website basically told me that “you’re not anonymous” and that I’ll be documented or something of the sort. It’s an informal, but pseudo-accusation in my opinion. That’s where “distortion” comes into play… I was on the website to familiarize myself with the case, and see if it still exists– they think I was there to download software to download copyrighted files. What a shame.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Morgan-Schapiro/1371840814 Morgan Schapiro

    I think the argument brought by Cindy is somewhat compelling. If one is totally confident in anything and everything they do then what is there to be afraid of? Is the world a worse off place in a society where people are aware that all their actions will be totally exposed?
    From a philosophical standpoint I think that could be somewhat of an evolution in humanity and a transcendence of the human consciousness into a more unified body.

    On the other hand, however, I think the reality is very different. We (pretty much everyone) lives in somewhat of a police state. Nearly anything the government and police decide they can make illegal without much scrutiny due to the sheer volume of it. How many laws did you violate today? Probably a few. This gives the government the instant ability to arrest and detain you, even on a baseless charge, enough to get you out of their way. That is not a path I want to head down, even as someone who is pro-security.

    Lets also talk about perceptions. Sex with younger (but legal age males) is one thing and a personal choice that may have social consequences. On the other hand what are the legal implications? I was stopped and threatened with a fine for public drinking by the BPD at 9:30 on a monday morning. The officer was overly rude and aggressive screaming personal insults at me during the processing and denying me the ability to speak. Why? Because I had a red cup. It was irrelevant that it was a monday morning and I had just come back from the gym and it contained a protein shake. Imagine if that process becomes institutionalized. Well you happen to have an interest in terrorists because you want to join the CIA, enjoy explaining that as you are detained for the legal maximum.

    This is, essentially, a denial of free speech and while I am all for sharing everything and anything I do not yet think the world has reached the stage that it is ready for that.

  • http://twitter.com/cindygallop Cindy Gallop

    Actually, I couldn’t agree more that  ‘humans have an innate right to choose whether, how, and not to share personal information with others’. The post on the BBC website is a much shorter transcript they edited down themselves of a 15-minute talk I gave on the Radio 4 programme FourThought, which does touch on precisely that point. 

    Although of course I am myself what many people would consider the very definition of ‘shameless’ :)Many thanks for the mention - 

    Cindy Gallop