PRISM: Why You Should Care, Even If You Have ‘Nothing To Hide’

Unless you’ve been residing under a proverbial rock, you know that it was recently revealed that the government has been pretty much going through everything we post on the Internet, and the reaction has been…pretty much only news media really giving a sh*t. Americans, it turns out, are pretty OK with the government riffling through their stuff in the name of safety. The common refrain is “I’ve got nothing to hide!”

And, no, most of us don’t have anything to hide. In fact, the vast majority of us will never do anything the government cares about. But that’s not why you should care about your privacy.

First of all, let’s do away with this idea that privacy is something only criminals want. In fact, it’s fairly easy to prove that everybody wants their privacy. Everybody’s got a limit. Some people will be happy to post naked pictures to Facebook, but would rather not discuss their medical history there. Some people would happily scan their pay stubs every week and post them on Twitter, but would rather not discuss their personal sexual quirks with the general public.

And, in every single situation we’re citing here, it was the individual who made the choice to give up that aspect of their privacy, or chose, for personal reasons, to keep that private. In fact, that’s likely the reason there’s not more outrage about this: “The government is collecting my selfies from Facebook? OK…so?” You don’t get to decide, with PRISM. Anything you put out there, regardless of who you put it out there for, can be read.

The other problem with PRISM is that it can be networked to corporate databases the government buys, and the fairly extensive information the government has on you already by dint of collecting taxes, making you go to school, and signing up for a driver’s license or registering to vote. Putting that together can create some truly staggering and disturbing connections. Let’s not forget that private companies without access to information the government enjoys can figure out if a woman is pregnant based on her purchase history and that much of targeting Internet advertising started not with your Amazon history but with your voting records.

People often use the term “police state” or “surveillance state,” but the reality is we have no idea what these systems, unrestrained, may be able to do or how they may be able to use them. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, for example, that you could use this information to drive government funding decisions, segregate neighbors by political affiliation, even manipulate elections. It is unlikely that PRISM will be used to do that, but the potential for abuse is there. Most of us have nothing to hide, but with that potential for abuse, we’ve got plenty to be concerned about.