Why should people care about surveillance?

That is one of the questions journalist Glenn Greenwald asked NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden during what appears to be the Ed’s first interview after his 2013 NSA leaks [1].

I did not find Snowden’s response 100% convincing. His response, paraphrased, was: Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, the massive amount of data the government has on you makes it easy for them to wrongfully accuse you (intentionally or unintentionally) of wrong doing.

This is one type of response against the “I have nothing to hide” argument that privacy advocates are constantly trying to dispel. Other arguments include equating privacy to free speech, or asking the person who has nothing to hide to hand over their unlocked phone.

None of these quite do it for me. For today’s law abiding person in a relatively democratic country, they really could have nothing to hide. I think a more poignant response is:

“Given the current level of government surveillance, how comfortable would you be with opposing your government should the need arise”?


It seems to me that a major part of a democratic system is the ability to express discontent with the status quo. People must be able to disagree. Put strongly, revolution must be possible. In this, free speech and privacy look like two sides of the same coin. If you loose one, you will loose the other.

[1] Video link: https://youtu.be/0hLjuVyIIrs?t=429 (timestamp 7:09)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s