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I was thinking about the phrase "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide". It makes some sense, I guess. I mean, if you're not doing anything wrong, why should you be worried about people knowing what you're up to? Yet no matter how many times I told myself this, the phrase irked me.

Then it hit me, as I was putting my bike away -- I do have things to hide. The number for my bike lock, for instance. My social security number. My internet passwords. Company passwords. Company keys. Things like that. These are things we're expected to keep secret.

I later came across a column by Mike Royko, about how people prefer to keep their privacy even for perfectly legal things. Imagine if somebody just walked into your home unbidden and looked at all your stuff. Wouldn't you feel violated? It doesn't matter if you have Nothing to Hide, in this case, because you bought the place intending it as a place to retreat from the world. There's a door that closes and windows with blinds and they exist for a reason.

And what of people under the Witness Protection Program? They aren't doing anything wrong either. As a matter of fact, they're doing something right, and paying the price for it. But they have something to hide: their whole lives prior to testifying.

And what of other people who fear for their lives? It could be someone who Offended Islam and expects retaliation, or trans people who know their acquaintances would react poorly if their secret was revealed.

And case officers in the CIA have their cover identities, although nobody calling for transparency will touch that one.

So don't tell me I have nothing to hide. I have lots of things to hide. Everyone does. Don't give me any crap about transparency being the new normal, and never mind what Mark Zuckerberg says. The right to privacy is based on far more than law. We should not give it away simply because we fear that somebody, somewhere, is doing something wrong. Especially since the definition of "wrong," in this case, is determined by people who are interested in prying into your own life -- so their interpretation tends to be too broad.

And it's not a fair statement anyway. Think about it: by the logic of the phrase, either I'm innocent and shouldn't be hiding anything, or I'm guilty of something and I'm going to have my privacy invaded. Either way, everything about me is exposed.

This is the logic of the phrase "only guilty men run" as well. It assumes that if someone wants to be left alone, it must be for nefarious reasons. In which case, both phrases presume guilt and require proof of innocence, which is the opposite of how our courts work. 

Be wary of this particular call for transparency. Transparency is for corporations and organizations that have to be held accountable, not individuals. If someone applies it to individuals, they're probably not interested in respecting your rights. If you hear anyone speak this phrase, do as Mike Royko did: ask them if they'd be willing to follow such a rule.The people that Royko was talking to turned out to value their personal privacy as much as he did. 

In short: doing something wrong and having something to hide can overlap, but they are not synonymous. the innocent have much to fear from those who say otherwise.

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