When discussing new laws that give government agencies greater powers in relation to surveillance, people sometimes claim, "If you haven't done anything wrong, then you shouldn't have anything to hide." This doesn't sit right with me, but I find my disquiet difficult to explain. It's not that I'm worried about bad governments potentially abusing such powers; it's more that I feel some sort of violation has happened. In a very different context, when people reveal their inmost thoughts on social media, or even post nude photographs of themselves, it's sometimes said, "This is who I am. Why should I hide anything or keep anything secret?" Again, I'd suggest that the value of some sort of privacy or private space is being questioned. There's a sort of implicit challenge as to why anyone should be private at all. I was wondering whether philosophers have any good reasons why some sort of secret, private space should be valued in itself. If one is not a criminal, is there any reason not to live one's life completely open?

As you suggest, the 'you haven't done anything wrong, so why should you be worried about surveillance?' stance doesn't seem to capture the privacy-based objections to being watched, observed, etc. That stance appears to assume that the only reason we might care about privacy is that it affords us some ability to prevent our illegal, immoral, or embarrassing behavior from being found out. I'm skeptical that privacy has any value "in itself," as you mention. Instead, privacy seems closely related to many other things we may value. Among the values philosophers have suggested privacy serves:
- Privacy may protect our right to control the dissemination of information about ourselves and to protect our capacity to craft a public persona distinct from our innermost thoughts or feelings.
- Privacy may be essential to intimacy with others or to the development of meaningful relationships with others.
- Privacy might serve to enable us to control others' access to us and so limit their ability to manipulate or coerce us or to harm us in other ways.
- Privacy may be needed in order for us to enjoy our human dignity.
(You can get a good sense of the various ways philosophers have analyzed privacy and its value by looking at Judith DeCew's Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the subject: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/privacy/)

My concern here is not to endorse any of these as the correct account of the value of privacy. Indeed, it's possible that privacy rests on multiple values, so that the 'right to privacy' is not a basic right but derivative of other more fundamental rights. Or perhaps privacy is itself a basic right or interest of ours. The larger point, though, is that even if someone 'has nothing to hide', she may nevertheless have compelling moral objections to surveillance, etc., based on one or more of these values.

That said, the right to privacy is one that people may, and often do, waive, particularly on the Internet. (Many statements of terms and conditions drafted by online sites include provisions that can be interpreted as requiring users to waive rights to privacy, for example, requiring that users allow data about their online habits to be collected, etc.) That shows that the right to privacy is not an obligation to retain one's privacy, but a right that one may permissibly alienate on particular occasions.

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