The Importance of Privacy

National security reporter, Barton Gellman, responding in a Washington Post Q&A to the question of why anyone should care about U.S. government surveillance if they have nothing to hide:

“Information is power. The US government (and US companies) now learn more about us than anyone has ever known about anyone, and secrecy prevents us from learning what they do. That puts us, in effect, behind a one way mirror. As a citizen who wants to hold my government to account, I find that troubling. I am not saying that the government is abusing the power it has accrued. Sometimes the scandal is what’s legal, especially if lawmakers and citizens had no reasonable opportunity to learn what the executive branch believed it was authorized to do. But abuse is not far behind us in our history. Spying on enemies was one of the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon, and the FBI’s Hoover died in the lifetime of many people still living. I don’t know whether I’ve ever met someone who truly has nothing to hide. If you think that’s you, post a link to everything on your phone, your computer, your email accounts and your web browsing and purchasing history. And even if you have no secrets, you’re probably in possession of the secrets of others — the friend who is going to leave her husband, or wants to find a new job, or just got diagnosed with something she does not want people to know about. Privacy is relational. We may tell things to our friends we don’t tell our parents or our kids, and so on. I want control of my own secrets, personal and professional. That’s the bottom line.”

Also worthwhile: Barton Gellman’s 2003 lecture at Princeton on “Secrecy, Security and Self-Government: An Argument for Unauthorized Disclosures” (transcript: Part I and Part II), as well as Conor Friedersdorf’s Why the Press Can Publish Any Classified Material It Likes in The Atlantic.