I Have Nothing to Hide


So when they continued asking him, he lifted himself up and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.
― John 8:7 (Jubilee Bible 2000)

In any discussion of government surveillance, such as has been revealed by the recent WikiLeaks “Vault 7” release of CIA documents, there are some folks who are apt to pipe up with “Let the government spy on me – I have nothing to hide.” By that they presumably mean for their listeners to understand they are not terrorists, criminals, or perverts, and to drive home their utter lack of impure intentions they will often add a feebly humorous aside about how government agents would fall asleep from the boredom of eavesdropping on them. How reassuring to learn that government flouting of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution is okay because there are some among us who are without sin! Whether these folks realize it or not, their smug pronouncement comes out of them because in their lives the presumption of innocence has always been a given, and therefore government agents would have no interest in their good citizen behavior. It doesn’t seem to occur to them there are others in our culture who, through no fault of their own, are presumed guilty, and there are still others who are just as law abiding as the “nothing to hide” crowd, but may be concerned about hackers and thieves accessing their data, or simply want to be left alone and feel that their affairs are their own and should not be the concern of the government. We can use locks on our doors not only to keep out criminals after all, but nosy neighbors and government snoops as well.

Jesus und Ehebrecherin
Jesus and the Adulteress; drawing by Rembrandt.

The digital age has changed the game somewhat by introducing new channels of communication and cheap storage for vast quantities of information. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments are no less valid, however, in stating that citizens should be secure in their “effects”; that government officials need warrants; that citizens cannot be compelled to testify against themselves; and that government shall follow due process of law in proceedings against any citizen. Naturally the Founding Fathers did not foresee the age of computers, smartphones, and the internet. They didn’t need to foresee those things, because in looking back on thousands of years of ancient Roman and Greek law and English common law, they were able to extract valid principles which were applicable to the general human condition whatever the particulars of any one era might be. Since their time, we have moved from postal mail and personal messenger to phone calls and telegrams, and now to blog posts and email. Government snooping amounts to the same thing whatever the means of communication, and it is protection from the ends that the Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution.

That much should be obvious, yet the erosion of the Bill of Rights continues bit by bit, often with the excuse that technology has wrought different contingencies in our modern era. There are no different contingencies – what has changed is that the state of emergency appears now to be permanent because it suits the agenda of powerful interests in the military-industrial complex. In the past, the United States government trampled rights for various reasons which seemed sensible to many at the time, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, to the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920, to the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Always the advocates of such policies invoked a state of emergency to justify the abuse of state power, but eventually calmer heads and changing circumstances would prevail and the balance would be corrected.

A segment of Eisenhower’s January 17, 1961 farewell address, with commentary.

As long as there are enablers of government snooping who complacently and self-righteously announce to everyone within earshot that they “have nothing to hide,” dislodging the powerful interests invested in the current status quo and restoring a constitutionally correct balance between citizens and government will be a protracted struggle. Those who value the privacy of their communications enough to take measures to protect it, such as by using the Tor internet browser or encrypting their emails, are thereby presumed guilty of possible anti-state, criminal, or sexually deviant enterprises by government snoops and their sanctimonious “nothing to hide” enablers because the very action of taking privacy measures draws scrutiny from those groups and is something they deem an admission of being up to no good. It is as if the Fourth and Fifth Amendments have been turned upside down, and objecting to having snoops looking in the windows of your house and walking in through the front door any time they please is fussy obstructionism, definitely unpatriotic, and possibly prosecutable. The “nothing to hide” folks are unconcerned over these developments, secure as they are in the comforting knowledge of their own innocence, though they may want to keep in a corner of their uncluttered minds the notion that the perception of innocence by those in power can shift capriciously, and so they are well advised to note this paraphrased bit from a poem by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller: They came for the Privacy Advocates, and I did not speak out – Because I had nothing to hide.
― Techly


The Nonconformists


“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


It’s easy to be a nondescript face in the crowd, to blend in, to not rock the boat. It takes no courage at all. It takes courage to stand out, to fold your arms when everybody else is saluting, to take a knee when others go with the flow. Dissent is not un-American, it is at the core of what it means to be an American.

A crowd in Hamburg, Germany in 1936 give the Nazi salute,
except for August Landmesser, circled, who folds his arms in protest.

The corporate oligarchy in charge of the United States has co-opted “Support our troops” to undermine dissent from nonconformists against military adventurism overseas. Constant war keeps the profits rolling in for the defense industry and helps the oligarchy control the domestic population by curtailing civil liberties in the name of national security. Pressure from the crowd to support jingoism takes on the colors of patriotism when the oligarchy cynically whips up their fervor with “Support our troops.” That is a phrase which, like the phrase “States’ rights” when used to support Southern secession in the American Civil War, takes on some clarity and cuts through the emotional fog wreathing it when we append to it a questioning clause. States’ rights to do what? Continue slavery? Support our troops in doing what? Enforcing the agenda of the oligarchy?

At home, criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement is used to divert attention from the real need for police reform. Criticism of authoritarian, militarized, unaccountable police is co-opted by talking about and booing the nonconformist protesters of the abuses committed by those out of control police. There is no logic to this; it is all emotion used for manipulation. This is stepping through the looking glass. This is like diverting attention from the revelations about the misconduct of government officials at home and abroad published by WikiLeaks by making the conversation about Julian Assange and speculation about his sources instead. Personalities, not critical analysis of public policies, are what the mainstream corporate media are selling. America, love it or leave it, the mass of faces in the crowd bellow in return.

Blessed are the Peacemakers
Blessed Are the Peacemakers by George Bellows, a 
1917 anti-war cartoon depicting Jesus with a halo,
wearing prison stripes, and in a sidebar a list of His seditious crimes.


So fold your arms when you feel the need, stand out when you have to, and take a knee when that seems the best course. It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary.
― Ed. 


“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.