Thursday, March 22, 2012

Security vs privacy - it's not what you think it is.

Originally published 06/01/2011 on

Daniel J. Solove is the author of "Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security." Yesterday (May 31,2011) he published an article, "Why 'security' keeps winning out over privacy," on about the bogus reasons security trumps privacy every time the two come into conflict.

According to Solove, the arguments used to win security over privacy are flawed, and he examines a few of those arguments to show how. We'll look at a couple today and a couple tomorrow:

  • The all or nothing fallacy - this fallacy says that you have to go all the way, or do nothing at all. He uses the example of surveillance, "In polls, people are asked whether the government should conduct surveillance if it will help in catching terrorists." Of course people say yes, the question implys that we are unprotected and saying "no" means leaving ourselves exposed to terrorist attack. The government already has the right to conduct surveillance, but must follow certain rules. As Solove puts it:


    We shouldn’t ask: "Do you want the government to engage in surveillance?" Instead, we should ask: "Do you want the government to engage in surveillance without a warrant or probable cause?"


    The former question pretends protecting privacy requires a complete loss of security. We weren't without protection before 9/11, and the protection isn't that much better now despite the increased "security" forced upon us.

  • The deference argument says courts should defer to the executive branch in security matters. But it is the courts job to be a check on the executive, examining what the executive does and making sure that it does to secure us is actually worth the trade-off. A simple, basic example is the TSA body scanners and patdowns. Will they even stop a slightly determined bomber? Probably not. A policy of deference by the courts means that our civil liberties are trampled on for no reason and the people who are supposed to gaurd them are looking the other way.

That's just two of the many arguments used to trump privacy for security. Tomorrow we'll look at two more.