Friday, August 2, 2013

Something Hidden

This had started out as a post concerning an increasingly common aversion on the part of police officers to being photographed or videotaped during the performance of their duties by the public - or the media. I'd planned to highlight two things that I'd remembered reading about online at some point or another in the past - police concerns that citizen videos or photographs would be taken out of context and law enforcement officials claiming that anyone with nothing to hide needn't be worried about being surveilled.

But my Google-fu is weak, and I had a difficult time tracking down any concrete examples. I found a news article from Minnesota where a police department claimed that a video of an officer roughing up a suspect didn't provide "complete context," and a story from LA, where the police department said that Justin Bieber should be willing to answer questions about a possible traffic violation if he had nothing to hide, but hardly anything that backed up the large point that I was attempting to make.

Being unwilling to go to war on straw, I kept digging for a while, and started to realize something. The cliché, "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear" seems to be rebutted far more often than it is actually said. In The Chronicle of Higher Education I came across an excerpt from Daniel Solove's "Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security," wherein Mr. Solove quotes a number of people talking about how common the argument is, and speaks to having heard it several times, but the closest that he comes to actually quoting anyone actually saying it is noting that the government of the U.K. used it to sloganeer for closed-circuit television cameras in public places. I quickly began to wonder if the whole turn of phrase existed mainly as something attributed to the Nazis and/or the Oceanian Ministry of Love, the thoughtless prattling of random Internet comment board denizens or bloggers hoping to prove their right-wing anti-terrorism bona fides.

Which, of course, is not to say that it isn't a serious concept, or one that needs addressing. But I do wonder if it really come from as high up in the food chain as we seem to think it does.

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