Nothing to Hide

Dear Watchers,

Being watched under surveillance has become a valued part of modern life. We would miss the capabilities to verify the truth here and abroad, follow-up on even health pandemics, protect citizens and business assets, and catch criminals or others causing harm by general security cameras, among many things. This comes at the cost of privacy, which at first glance looks unimportant when in fact you have nothing to hide. Not so. We must be very strict in protecting ourselves to its misuse, whether intentional or not. The consequences can be monstrous.

In the first place, having nothing to hide is not the same as let it all hang out. We want to choose to whom we wish to reveal what. It also is misleading as to what you think you see as it is a one-way mirror so to speak. Think of kids spying on the parents making love. Without interpretation, how likely are they to understand what they just saw? A true picture requires more of a relationship than just peeking through key holes. Even straightforward remarks picked up on a phone is not always going to be accurate to the eavesdropper without additional information or even explanation. Thus, it may be intrusive and inaccurate if not followed up carefully.

From a moral point of view, it is not one of our activities that can be justified by intention, as the consequences can be so damaging no matter what was intended. This applies far beyond use by law enforcement. If teens commit suicide from false or even true accusation or report, then malicious mischief is not sufficient as an acceptable cause. As with most crime, it is the consequences you must pay for.

As for malice or control by oppression, an old folk tale comes to mind. It regards a powerful duke who is enraged by his popular, well-regarded wife. Using his titled power, he strips her naked and ties her to a horse which is led through town and loudly announced so all can see. Maybe some can even handle her a bit, or poke and prod to see what she does, or laugh when she cries, or in general do as they please with their resentments against this naked, vulnerable duchess. Such public humiliation and undeserved shame should make her more amenable to anything by anyone. Her plight will be a joke as that wild Lady Godiva.

However, it did not work out that way. Although the town could not fight their lord to protect her, the citizens did not have to cooperate in this scheme. As the horse with its sad cargo was announced, the people turned away, dropped their eyes, and refused to look. Thus, there was no shame except to the schemer who was so base. Always an odd man out, and, in this case his name was Tom, who did look after all, but was caught at it — and forever more is dubbed Peeping Tom, who will go to jail for looking where he is not supposed to.

This tale really is about the town, which makes it relevant even now. You do not have to fight in order to effectively resist with the powerful word we learn at age two: NO. A more subtle performance comes in a modern legend of the Dutch town newly occupied by the Nazis, who immediately sent the order that all Jews had to wear a yellow star on their coats. Imagine the surprise the next morning to see every citizen in town sporting a big yellow star on their jackets with the simple excuse that they all thought they were special.

Again and again, overzealous power overrides the boundaries of decency, and again and again it falls flat on its face as people’s sense of righteous equality starts to get loud — if not stand in solidarity, like the Dutch in the story. Most people want a good world and want it enough to share or even sacrifice some if they must. Some people, believe it or not, are happy to pay every penny of their taxes as a form of gratitude. These stories all seem to have the same moral: that we are empowered to stand up against overwhelming force without engaging in violence because we are saying YES to a higher and more noble desire for a decent and kind world trying to be fair. And, being watched can help bring that about or completely destroy it.

Sharon Robinson

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