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The Forum > Article Comments > If you've nothing to hide > Comments

If you've nothing to hide : Comments

By Mirko Bagaric, published 14/8/2008

Privacy legislation: when less is more

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The right to privacy is much greater than a want for privacy, it can also be a safety net.

In this age of faceless communication and commerce were business is conducted between people who have never met before information is as good as gold. Many banks around the world these days, although maybe not in Australia yet, will approve credit cards to people without even seeing their face with online approvals. If I knew enough about you I could apply for a credit card in your name, run up a huge debt and 'disappear' leaving you with the bill.

Our society is becoming more litigious everyday, with people out there looking to sue at the drop of a hat or to have some warped sense of justice filled. To know all dirty secrets of our neighbours will be more divisive than be in blissful ignorance. Imagine if in their youth one of your neighbours was a drug dealer who was directly responsible for a death by overdose. Would you trust them even though it was something that happened in the stupidity of youth? Probably not. Our society often defines an individual not by their good works but by what they have done in their past. A drug dealer will always remain a drug dealer, no matter what they do afterwards.

Privacy is a good thing, it keeps us safe from those who would want to do us harm and while some may see that it causing harm by not allowing full disclosure I ask, isn't risk a part of life? We must accept some risk in life or die alone in our rooms scared of everything.
Posted by Arthur N, Thursday, 14 August 2008 10:33:02 AM
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“No one has yet been able to identify where the right to privacy comes from and why we need it.” Bagaric is just so shallow - and wrong.

Privacy is often most appreciated when it's taken away. Tyranny thrives on the control of personal information. Authoritarian governments don’t ask individuals to consent to their privacy being invaded - they just assert that the interests of society or ‘the State’ must dominate the interests of individuals.

Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. At the time of German unification, in 1989, East Germany had been engaging in a massive institutional invasion of privacy. Stasi had secret files on 6,000,000 citizens – one in three of the entire population. It employed over 90,000 spies and 300,000 voluntary informants. It had infiltrated and undermined West Germany's government (Geoffrey Robertson, Crimes Against Humanity, Penguin 2002, p. 293).

Faced with privacy-invading surveillance technologies, individuals are less ready to complain or voice dissent. Public interest advocates and ‘troublemakers’ are repressed. Oppositional candidates are less willing to be critical; supporters less prepared to go out on a limb; and voters more fearful of the consequences if their voting patterns become known.

The parallels with big business should not be dismissed. With massive data bases, powerful organisations are able to share your personal data with ‘business partners’, corporations and government agencies to exercise control through tracking people’s consumer and other behaviours.

Biometric technologies create new capabilities that have never been known before.

Any system that involves access to stores of personal data is fraught with enormous risks. Malevolent imposters can trick devices into authenticating another person. This enables them to gain access to software or data, digitally sign messages and transactions, capture the person’s identity, harm the person’s reputation, or ‘frame’ the person. New biometrics are potentially dangerous, because they’re the equivalent of a PIN that can’t be changed. Lose it once, and you’re forever subject to impersonation and false charges.

Those are some of the reasons why we should champion the right to privacy even when we have nothing to hide.
Posted by Spikey, Thursday, 14 August 2008 12:54:49 PM
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Mirko Bagaric should commence his post with his annual salary and medical history - "if he's got nothing to hide ...". In this light, I find his arguments disingenuous. To further bring pedophilia into the debate (when research shows it's far more likely a pedophile will be a relative than a neighbour), has become the modern variant on Godwin's Law.

There is debate to be had for saying individuals should be treated differently to organisations: individuals deserve better privacy protections, organisations less. But that debate is lost in this piece by the poor tabloid style arguments presented.
Posted by Fozzy, Thursday, 14 August 2008 1:59:45 PM
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There goes Mirko once more, implicitly championing the cause of every totalitarian philosophy from Mao to Mussolini to Milosevic.

I used to think that, maybe, Mirko was playing devil’s advocate in his expressed views but – don’t be fooled – he believes this claptrap, hiding behind such innocuous ‘sucker punches’ as: "If you have done nothing wrong, why do you have anything to fear."

The answer is simple: "Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition." Privacy is a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect; unfettered surveillance is the antithesis of this.

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power because, without it, surveillance information will be abused.

An old proverb says it best: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ("Who watches the watchers?")

Privacy is a fundamental human right recognised in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

As I have said before, Mirko, you can take the boy out of Croatia but you can’t take Croatia out of the boy.
Posted by Doc Holliday, Thursday, 14 August 2008 3:21:38 PM
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All these negative comments. Mirko really hit a nerve. I think he is 1/2 right because the utopia he paints is real, on one condition. 1/2 wrong because he did not mention that condition.

The nervousness is understandable. Up till now we have had one example of total loss of privacy - the one served up by East Germany. It's enough to frighten anyone, including me. Yet undeniably our privacy is gradually being eroded, and equally undeniably we aren't heading down the East German road. If you want to know where we are headed look at this:

To many that is the ultimate horror, yet what harm came from it? Nothing as far as I can tell. Lots of reactions like the ones I see here, but no harm ands its hard to see how it could arise given it happens to everyone. On the positive side we have this:

Here again, what was once private is no longer so. But I bet no one is arguing it was a bad thing in that case.

So what is different about East Germany? It was not loss of privacy. It was imbalance of power. In East Germany you lost your privacy to a select few. They knew everything about you, yet you knew nothing about them. Surprise surprise, that imbalance was used to keep the populace in check.

What you must guard is not your privacy. Its your right to know as much about someone as they do about you. Don't be suspicious of someone taking your picture in public. Be suspicious of the person who won't let you take their picture. Be suspicious of the credit rating agency that gets your information to a select few, who then uses it to decide what you can and can't do.

Loss of privacy is like disarmament. Its frightening. You are giving them power over you. It only works if they give you the same power over them. But given the balance is preserved I think the picture Mirko paints is pretty accurate, and the pain of disarmament is worth it.
Posted by rstuart, Thursday, 14 August 2008 6:33:03 PM
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Dear Mirko

I'm sort of with you on this one. I too agree that privacy (of the socially insular kind) is a breeding ground for some of society's creepier, more foetid ills. I think that most of society's misfits are created in an overabundance of family privacy. I think that it would be a great thing if all members of our society could be encouraged to be far more open and accomodating to one-another.

I don't think I ever had a secret worth keeping. Knock on my door on a stinking hot day, and I might answer it in the nud. Mate - I don't give a hoot! And nor should anyone else (in a more ideal world).


But I have other privacy issues which need addressing too:

1. Do you think that the commercial-in-confidence sections of our State Government PPP contracts should be kept private from the public?

2. If the AFP makes an accusation against any person, why should the AFP be entitled to keep the evidence private?

3. Is any corporation or thing which breaches the privacy of the individual, entitled to any privacy of it's own?

4. Do you think any slackening of privacy should be applied equally across the board, regardless of a person's job, status, wealth or privelege?


Mirko - can you take the time to give me your prognostications on this?

Posted by Chris Shaw, Carisbrook 3464, Thursday, 14 August 2008 7:16:05 PM
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