Sunday 31 July 2016

The Nothing To Hide Nothing To Fear Argument

My post two days ago about Police Scotland illegally spying on us and the lengths they have gone to in order to hide their activities from us has sparked a lot of reactions from readers.

Others I've spoken to personally in the last couple of days are concerned about the extent of their information gathering, and rightly so.

The question that crops up most regularly in these conversations is "How do you know when Police Scotland (or anyone for that matter) are spying on you"?

The short answer is, you don't.

I'm a member of a number of wonderful organisations including Liberty and Don't SpyOn Us who campaign tirelessly to protect our privacy laws and hold the authorities to account. It's a constant battle with corrupt organisations such as the police, the Crown office, and the Government who constantly ignore and circumvent our laws.

It's an on-going battle and can best be described as a never ending game of cat and mouse. Every time police get caught acting out with the law and are taken to task, they simply change tactics and find another loophole and another way around the laws. And so the merry-go-round of cat and mouse games begin again.

Police and the Crown office love to justify their actions with the classic (and critically flawed) argument "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear".

And it's not just untrustworthy Police Scotland and the corrupt Crown office who peddle this totally flawed and incoherent argument. It's often quoted by well meaning but sadly ignorant members of the public who simply do not understand what privacy really is or the arguments that support privacy.

Corrupt officials in the Government, the police, and the Crown office especially use it when they want to discriminate against members of the public and cause them harm.

The most powerful and stinging counter-argument against "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear is fundamental to our whole democracy - the basic right of every man, woman and child to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

You see, blanket surveillance of the population turns this most basic God given right to be treated as innocent until proved guilty completely on it's head.

The 'if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear' argument is purely based on an assumption that you are guilty of something, anything, until such times as secret (and often illegally obtained) surveillance of you and your data can show that you've done nothing wrong.

It's scandalous, it's illegal, and it's undemocratic. It has no place in a civilised society and it's completely unacceptable.

Many folks I speak to struggle to understand what the difference is between 'innocent until proven guilty' and 'guilty until proven innocent' and why its so important. They usually see it as just two sides of the same coin. But it most certainly is not, and the distinction is very important.

Those same folks often also struggle to understand 'if you have nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear' argument and how it is central to maintaining the corrupt ways the police and the Crown office operate.

So here's a simpler, easy-to-understand example which describes it perfectly in layman's terms.

Imagine I were to ask you to give me your mobile phone, give me all your passwords, then I asked you to drop your trousers and underpants and let me take a photo of you.

You would refuse (I hope)!

If I then tried to argue that "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear?" hopefully you would still refuse.

Its pretty obvious from the above example that although you may have nothing to hide, there are some things that you would like to keep private - your genitalia being one of them!

But just as importantly, if you don't know me from Adam, you have no way to know if you can trust me with your passwords and the data on your mobile phone (and a pic of you naked!). You have no way of knowing what I'm going to do with your data once I have it.

Even if you did know me and trust me, what happens if I lose your data?

What if my phone gets stolen and your data is among it so gets stolen too?

Your phone may contain medical records, bank account details, or debt information.

Your phone's browser history may reveal your political leanings.

And that's just your mobile phone!

This, in a nutshell, is what privacy is all about.

Because the one thing that the police, the Crown office, and the Government have shown us over and over again for as many years as I care to remember is that they are really, really bad at protecting our data.

They leave PC's switched on and logged in - the office cleaner can walk up to them and view sensitive information.

They throw documents in to wheelie bins outside their offices without shredding them first.

They use computers that are so old a 10 year old could break the security and hack them.

Who can forget the MI5 agent who left his briefcase full of secret papers on a train (link here).

Then there's Bob Quick, Britain's counter-terrorism chief who was photographed getting out of his car with a page of a top secret document completely exposed under his arm.

And then Jeremy Hunt who was photographed walking up Downing Street exposing a file with sensitive NHS data.

What about when one persons data gets confused with another persons data? We know that medical records and patient data often gets mixed up.

We know that police often wrongly knock on the door of someone with a similar name.

Does it matter that police have pegged you as a pedophile when in fact it's not you at all - it's the guy who lives at 92 Acacia Avenue, not 92 Acacia Crescent who is the pedophile?

You're damn right it matters.

I don't care whether it's the police, the Crown office or the Government - if they have the data of millions of innocent members of the public who have done nothing wrong, then that data can, will (and has) fallen in to the wrong hands. Guaranteed.

There's an old saying which says that there are only two types of computer users - those who have lost all their data, and those who are about to lose all their data.

Ultimately, a computer is where all the data they collect ends up residing - no matter who collects it and no matter how careful they may think they are being with it.

And computers get hacked and data gets stolen from IT systems every day.

The authorities have access to so much information it's mind boggling.

They film you while you're driving, tracking your movements and logging them via roadside pole mounted CCTV cameras (they had 850 million pics of innocent drivers in Scotland going about their daily business on their database at the last count).

They monitor your internet browsing (ever wondered why after you checked the weather in Spain you got adverts popping up for holidays in Benidorm a few days later).

They read letters and mail before the postman delivers it (all mail goes through a scanner), and GCHQ record your telephone conversations (with the help of Police Scotland's undercover Scottish Recording Centre in Glasgow).

Add to this the fact that that they hold your passport, driving licence, car ownership details, the title deeds of your house, your wages and tax, social security data, pension details - the list goes on - and you can see that there's a ton of information about you that the authorities already hold.

Yet they still want more.

So you see, the problem for me isn't that I have anything to hide from untrustworthy Police Scotland or the corrupt Crown office or any other Government agency for that matter.

The problem for me is that I fear what they'll do with my data.

I fear that they cannot be trusted to keep my data safe.

And those are very real fears.

Very real fears which every innocent member of the public should have.

Fears which have been proven to be very, very well founded, time and time again.

If, after everything I've said here today, you're still unconvinced and you still believe that 'if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear' (and you still trust the authorities with your data), then I only have one word for you: WIKILEAKS