We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A law-abiding person has nothing to hide?

I was just thinking up a few scenarios in answer to the assertion that “a law abiding person has nothing to fear from ID cards, in-car tracking systems or surveillance cameras”. These are some wholly or mostly law-abiding persons who do have something to fear:

  • A person who has unpopular political beliefs of left or right that might lose them their job or promotion.

  • A person who is homosexual but their family does not know.

  • A teenage girl secretly visiting her boyfriend. He is of a different race to her family, and they have forbidden her to see him.

  • A man who is seeking to change his job needs to attend interviews with other companies. He doesn’t want his present employer to know for fear that if the interviews don’t work out he might end up worse off than before, having lost the confidence of his boss.

  • A woman scouting out places to go to get away from her violent partner.

  • Someone going to Alcoholics Anonymous or drugs rehabilitation sessions.

  • Someone going to church, synagogue or mosque who fears the scorn of their secular friends, colleagues or family.

  • Someone attending classes of religious instruction prior to converting to another religion who fears the vengeance of their family if their apostasy becomes known.

  • A son or daughter visiting an estranged parent without the knowledge of the parent they live with.

  • An ex-criminal seeking to go straight who must meet his probation officer or register with the police.

  • An adulterer. (I think adultery is very wrong, but I don’t want the government involved in exposing it – besides the intrinsic nastiness of state intervention in such matters, you can bet they would expose the adulteries of their opponents and pass over the adulteries of their friends.)

That example takes us to a more general point: there are so many laws that nearly all of us are breaking some of them all the time. This fact gives local and national authorities enormous scope for quiet blackmail. You think it’s unlikely that they would be so wicked? Well, the blackmailers themselves might scarcely see it as blackmail. Imagine this scenario: they get to know that X, an irritating serial complainer, writer of letters to the editor, and general thorn in the side of several local councillors, is attending an adult education class for more than the number of hours permitted to an unemployed person who is meant to be actively seeking work. How satisfactory to take action against this pest! Meanwhile Y, who sat next to X in the class and is equally unemployed and equally breaking the rules (or equally unaware of them), is ignored because he is not a troublemaker.

Cross-posted from Samizdata.net

2 comments to A law-abiding person has nothing to hide?

  • David A. Fauman

    Hank Williams Sr. said, (with a country twang) “If yer mindin yer own business you’ll be to busy to mind mine”

    No one will ever ask me for my ‘Papers Please’ or they better be doing it at gunpoint in force.

  • bart

    The comment about breaking some law at any give time is exactly how the old soviet system worked. Because you are always breaking the law the state always has power over you, and don’t bet that the state won’t take advantage of this opportunity.