The folly of “I have nothing to hide” in a surveillance society

That’s the idea some people are advancing to suggest the extensive data gathering conducted by the federal government is okay.

I plan to discuss this in detail. In the meantime, I want to start putting some pieces of information on the table.

Moxie Marlinspike has a superb article in Wired: Why “I Have Nothing to Hid” Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance.

You may think you haven’t broken any laws.

But are you familiar with all 27,000 pages of the United States Code?

The article quotes James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School:

Estimates of the current size of the body of federal criminal law vary. It has been reported that the Congressional Research Service cannot even count the current number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered in over 50 titles of the United States Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, the statutory code sections often incorporate, by reference, the provisions and sanctions of administrative regulations promulgated by various regulatory agencies under congressional authorization. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, but the ABA thinks there are ”nearly 10,000.”

Are you familiar with all 10,000 regulations that implement the 27,000 pages of the U.S.C.?

Check out this example:

For instance, did you know that it is a federal crime to be in possession of a lobster under a certain size? It doesn’t matter if you bought it at a grocery store, if someone else gave it to you, if it’s dead or alive, if you found it after it died of natural causes, or even if you killed it while acting in self defense. You can go to jail because of a lobster.

Did you know that?

I didn’t. Of course I don’t like lobster and don’t go snorkeling so the risk of me running afoul of that law is low.


Let’s say you do like being in the ocean and took a picture in the boat of that cute little baby lobster you found while snorkeling or diving on your last vacation. You broke federal law by having it in your possession, even if it was only out of the water for 90 seconds.

Let’s say you posted that cute picture on Facebook, Pinterest, or some other social media. You just created evidence that can be used against you in a felony trial. The picture shows you holding the lobster and the geolocation info on the pic documents you were inside the U.S. 

You just got convicted.

Jail time.

Doesn’t matter that you tossed the lobster into the water and it happily wandered off.

File this away for furture discussion:  Now with the NSA vacuuming up everything they can lay their hands on, that photo proving you committed a felony will be stored for decades.

The article goes on to say that social change takes place because people are able to break the law. When that becomes common enough, the laws will change accordingly.

“I have nothing to hide” is a dangerous and foolish concept.

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