Yes, you DO have something to hide…

Lucian Valsan

By Lucian Valsan . 12 April 2022

Everyone has something to hide, even if one might not know it yet.

One of the most common pseudo-arguments against privacy goes something like this: “Why do you need privacy? If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear” – or words to that effect. Some people are indeed convinced by this not clever wordplay.

The problem is that even if one is to buy into the inherently totalitarian logic of this wordplay, the issue still stands – the point is that everyone does indeed have something to hide, including those who use this thought-terminating cliché, even if those individuals don’t know it yet.

Those who’ve been through a totalitarian regime know the value of privacy by instinct. Still, those who’ve been fortunate and privileged enough to have been born into a relatively-free society are invited to read the following lines and use their imagination. While going to jail for trivial reasons is less common these days, losing your job and/or your livelihood over what you perceive to be trivial things is still common.

Here are five everyday situations in which you or your loved ones could easily find themselves and can easily be avoided by avoiding the mindset that you don’t have anything to hide.

"Wrong" political opinion

While arresting people for holding the “wrong” political opinion or voting for the “wrong” candidate is not something one usually associates with modern-day Europe or North America – lesser consequences are still expected.

In 2016, a British child who will be voting in the next British general election had the police called on him for browsing the website of a mainstream political party at school as part of a school project that involved discussion on immigration. The school network’s admin decided to inform the teachers. The teachers decided to notify the police that the child wanted to get the perspectives of all the parties in the House of Commons over the topic being debated in school. It sure would’ve helped if the kid had known to use a VPN.

In the good ol’ USA, you can be fired or not hired at all in the first place for your political views, even if they are very mainstream views held by tens of millions of your fellow citizens. And frequently, employers learn these details by snooping into your computer usage. At the same time, at work (yes, they can do that, and routinely do that) or by stalking your social media (which is inherently unsafe, more on that in another story).

Admittedly, sometimes the political storm finds you – as it happened to a staffer at the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas who was falsely accused by the social media mob of participating in the Charlottesville march of the so-called alt-right when he was 1000 miles away from the location when the protest took place.

Practicing privacy is no panacea, but it sure can prevent many problems from emerging.

Sexual proclivities

More people today are indeed tolerant of non-normative sexual proclivities than 50 years ago, but it is far from true that most people are.

Like with politics, one man’s kink is another one’s disgusting behavior. While we can argue whether that should be the case or not, the fact is that we all live in the world as it is rather than as we imagine it to be.

While it is doubtful that you’d be arrested for your sexual proclivities if they only involve consenting people above the age of consent, it is indeed a lot more likely that you would be fired should some of those details come into the wrong hands.

Even the notoriously open-minded IT industry still notes cases of people fired because of their sexual proclivities. This is doubly ironic not only because the IT industry bills itself as “open-minded” but also because those who work in IT should know better when it comes to caring for their privacy.

Privacy starts with a VPN, but it also means being discrete with your information in general. For instance, you may not think your browsing history is extraordinary, but the same data may be helpful to someone who doesn’t like you. Your employer or your client may not take it kindly that you want a specific type of pornographic material or even a specific type of literature, so you should try your best not to have a browsing history recorded anywhere.

Your fiscal optimization procedures

Today, much more than 50 years ago, fiscal optimization has become accessible to the middle class in more and more countries. While fiscal optimization is a perfectly legal way of shrinking your tax bill, it doesn’t mean you should want it public.

This is especially true in the European Union, in which most countries have some of the highest taxation levels in the world, leading more and more people to look for ways to avoid them.

Using a VPN to access your Revolut account, avoiding electronic payments filed as deductions… these (and others) are basic things that keep your procedure safe from the prying eyes of activists who are drooling for your money. The taxes are between you and the tax authority in your jurisdiction – not for the knowledge of Google or any other third party.

Recreational drug use

While only a few jurisdictions in the US and only one country in Europe (Portugal) have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, the use of drugs recreationally has a much wider spread and tolerance.

In some countries of Europe (e.g., Italy, Czechia, Albania), many drugs are de facto tolerated – meaning that the police won’t barge into your house for using them. In others (e.g., The Netherlands), they are kept in a legal limbo based on a judicial technicality.

With that said, the increased tolerance towards certain drugs by the authorities does not necessarily mean increased tolerance by the rest of the society. In fact, in some areas of the world, even smoking perfectly legal tobacco outside working hours can be grounds for dismissal.

Point being: If you like to hang out in online communities centered around a particular drug, you might want to do it anonymously and with a privacy-first in mind.

Your miscellaneous preferences

While you’re unlikely to be fired from your job for liking a certain kind of music, and while it could be tempting to out yourself as a fan of a particular artist, such information is beneficial for those who build profiles on the population.

Such a piece of information may be no big deal now – but can you guarantee it will always be no big deal? There was a time, not so long ago, when pupils were being harassed for attending certain fandoms.

Back in 1999, it was no big deal if you liked the movie Matrix. Then it became a big deal because the creators came out as transgender. Now it’s a bad thing because the protagonist is a white male. This may sound silly (largely because it is) – but a lot of troubles in day-to-day life can be avoided if your preferences are expressed with your privacy in mind while online.

The Internet is forever. You can’t delete something from the Internet. And while you can’t have 100% privacy either, having a reasonable amount of privacy is possible, and it would indeed be a step in the right direction from the status quo in which most people have 0% privacy and, to make things worse, far too many think it’s a good idea.

Your ideas, your personality, your preferences,… the things that make you… you – those don’t belong to the public, the government, or multinational corporations. Those belong to you.

And while some of us decide to become advocates (and with that, renounce some of our privacy) – it does not and should not mean that everyone has to do it.

Your living room is your living room because it has walls and it’s private, and you get to act in it as if nobody is watching. You don’t have to wear clean and fancy clothes, use a specific type of language and smile. The walls allow you that.

The same can (and should) be extended to the online world. Most people have taken their living room online but haven’t taken the walls with them.

You don’t need to explain to anyone why you want some privacy. It is your right.

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