Think you’ve got nothing to hide from the NSA? Think again.

NSA Utah Data Center

The NSA is building a massive complex in Utah to store intercepted data. Are you comforted, America?

In response to the furor over the NSA’s mass surveillance of Americans’ communications, many Americans proclaim, “The NSA can watch me if I want. I have nothing to hide.” This tweet from Sam Harris is representative of the sentiment (which you can see more of on the Twitter feed @_nothingtohide): “What’s in your email that you don’t want Obama reading it?”

But, the truth is, everyone has something to hide. Federal, state, and local laws form such a gargantuan and byzantine morass that nobody can know what all the rules are, and nobody can help acting illegally.

The attorney Harvey Silvergate wrote the book Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, the title of which comes from his estimation that “the average person unknowingly breaks at least three criminal laws each and every day.”

This is no accident. As Ayn Rand wrote:

There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

All that stands between the average citizen and a jail cell is prosecutorial whim.

Now think about what can happen when the federal government has a database of your phone calls, emails, pictures, and social media posts. If you’ve irritated the wrong person, or if you’re just unlucky enough to fall under a bored prosecutor’s gaze, finding the crimes you’ve committed — for the odds are quite low you’ve done nothing illegal — would become a lot easier.

Nobody’s suggested that, at this moment, government officials can browse through NSA records looking for victims to prosecute. But, if government archives are available that would allow that, then it will happen eventually. Expansions of government programs beyond their original scope are almost inevitable.

Supplemental reading

Tim Carney explains why everyone, no matter how supposedly “law-abiding,” should object to the NSA’s mass surveillance.

Update, June 14, 2013

Courtesy of Aaron Ross Powell:

Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance

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Written by Jason Vines

I'm Jason Vines, a web developer at a research institution in Washington, DC. I graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor's degree in political science, with a minor in journalism. I enjoy philosophy and web scripting, as well as reading, writing, history, video games, travel, and photography.