Questions for the “I Have Nothing to Hide” Crowd

by Don Boudreaux on June 15, 2013

in Civil Society, Reality Is Not Optional

This worthwhile essay in the Washington Post by Daniel Solove prompts me to put a few questions to those who, in reaction to learning of extensive and secretive government surveillance of private persons, endorse such surveillance on the grounds that they “have nothing to hide.”

1. Is your lack of concern with government snooping a result of your confidence that (a) you, your loved ones, and your friends consistently act in ways that do not violate (what you believe to be) today’s government policy; (b) government will seldom-enough err in interpreting the contents and motives of your, your loved ones’ and your friends’ activities; and (c) that today’s government policy targets and penalizes only those private activities that “ought” to be targeted and penalized by government?  If so, are you also confident that government policy will never change to render those same activities of you, your loved ones, and your friends unacceptable to government tomorrow?

2.  Or is your lack of concern with government snooping due instead to your confidence that you, your loved ones, and your friends will always not only wish to – but will also always successfully and in time – adjust your activities in ways that render those activities acceptable to government, regardless of the specific contents and motives of whatever government policies reign at the moment?

If questions #1 (rather than question #2) explain your lack of concern with government snooping, you apparently assume that “our” government is sufficiently unlikely ever to abuse its power to target and penalize activities that ought never be targeted and penalized by government.  Government, for you, is an angel.

If, instead, question #2 explains your lack of concern with government snooping, you apparently believe that government policy itself determines what is right and wrong for private people to do – to do both in public and in private.  You believe that the very fact that government prohibits action makes action wrong, and that all decent people will understand this fact and never again do action (unless and until government declares action to again be appropriate for its subjects to do).  Government, for you, is god.

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