Saturday, July 2, 2011

If You've Done Nothing Wrong, You've Got Nothing to Hide

If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide.

If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide.

This is a phrase that has irritated the holy shit out of me for a very, very long time. Any time privacy is brought up, there's some idiot out there who'll whip this little saying out like a cock at a streaker's convention. I don't know if they really believe this or if they're just mind-bogglingly naive.

My knee-jerk reaction to this is to ask: "Then would you want to take a shit in a glass box on the sidewalk?"

The baseline of this, as pointed out in another article I read, is that the If You've Done Nothing Wrong argument is faulty on it's face because it mixes up the concept of privacy with the concept of secrecy. We do things that are private; like taking a shit, making love, lounging in our underwear, keeping medical records sealed, not sharing our credit card bills, not blabbing our social security numbers to people. We do these for a number of reasons; modesty, security, the desire not to put ourselves on display. When we go home, we have doors to close, windows to shut. We do this because, among other things, we like our privacy.

Now, I have done no wrong, but I have things I want to keep private. My online browsing habits, for example. I don't go to pedo websites, I don't hit up white supremacist sites or look up nuclear weapon designs. I go to message boards, art websites, webcomic sites, but the bottom line is, they are my business and no one else's. I don't want to have my internet movements tracked without my consent, just like I don't want my reading habits monitored or my phone calls listened in on. It's not because I am up to anything nefarious, I am just a private person.

People also seem to underestimate simple things like intimidation. If a person believes that participating in this protest is going to get them on a government watch-list which will then have agents snooping through their lives and records, then they are more likely to stay home when they otherwise would have exercised their First Amendment rights. Of course, the government did nothing overtly to curb their rights to freedom of speech, but they did through the use of perceived retaliation. These people have nothing to hide, but they don't want to have government agents poking their noses into their business.

The people who are saying this are largely doing so in response to the government violating the Fourth Amendment. After all, only Evil Doers™ need to be afraid and unlike the Evil Don'ters©, who Have Nothing to Hide, they do so why are you worried about enforcing the Fourth Amendment?

The only way this argument would work in the case of security or the pursuit of justice, however, is if the government could be shown definitively to have never, ever made a wrongful conviction in the entire history of that government's existence. Just one wrongful conviction, one, would be enough to render the If You've Done Nothing Wrong argument invalid. Well, here you go, everyone. One article about two such wrongful convictions. Not only have two innocent men been convicted, one was on Death Row for it. And, the icing on the cake of this is that the Supreme Court has basically said "Tough shit."

One innocent man, from Arizona, was sent back to prison for raping a child when the Supreme Court ruled he had no right to evidence that would later set him free.

Another innocent man, from Louisiana, was convicted of murder and came within weeks of being executed because prosecutors had hidden a blood test that later freed him.

The two men were linked at the Supreme Court last week by Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued that criminal defendants have no right to "potentially useful evidence" that "might" show they were innocent.

Since the 1990s, the advent of DNA evidence has swept across the American criminal justice system and revealed that hundreds of convicted prisoners were innocent. Yet, throughout that time, the Supreme Court has shielded prosecutors from claims that they hid evidence that could have revealed the truth and has been reluctant to give prisoners a right to reopen old cases.

By a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the high court threw out a jury verdict won by John Thompson, the Louisiana man who had sued the New Orleans district attorney after he spent 14 years on death row for crimes he did not commit. In the past, the court has shielded individual prosecutors from being sued, even if they deliberately framed an innocent person. Last week's decision protects a district attorney's office from being sued for a series of errors that sent an innocent man to prison.

Advocates for the wrongly convicted denounced the decision. Prosecutors have "enormous power over all of our lives," said Keith Findley, president of the Innocence Network, yet "no other profession is shielded from this complete lack of accountability."

In Thompson's case, at least four prosecutors knew of the blood test, eyewitness reports and other evidence that, once revealed, showed they had charged the wrong man.

"When this kind of conduct happens and it goes unpunished, it sends a devastating message throughout the system," said Sherrilyn Ifill, a University of Maryland law professor. "It means more of these incidents will happen."

So, no, I don't have anything to hide, but I've done nothing wrong so I'm not gonna show it to you anyway. Come back with a warrant.

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