GUIDE

Why Data Encryption Still Matters if you have Nothing to Hide

Data encryption isn’t something only the geeks and techies need to worry about nowadays. If you spend time on the Internet, you’re involuntarily leaving an electronic trail that reveals an awful lot about you. If you don’t understand why that should concern you, you really should read on.

A phrase frequently uttered during discussions on online privacy is “nothing to hide, nothing to fear.” The phrase is said to originate from George Orwell’s “1984,” but this origin is widely debated. Wikipedia mentions a reference to a 1919 “muckraking exposé” by Upton Sinclair, and elsewhere on the Internet you can find similar expressions attributed to Nazi Joseph Goebbels, and even a character from an 1888 novel by Henry James.

Regardless of where the phrase (and the theory) originated, it remains popular amongst those who wish to erode people’s right to privacy. If you buy into the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument, then I hope to challenge your belief with this article.

The Evolution of Privacy

As the excellent video below points out, personal privacy hasn’t been around forever. Until the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century, most people lived in small communities where, much like in some villages today, people tended to “know everybody’s business.”

After the revolution, people started to move en masse to cities. As is still relevant now, city life brought with it an air of anonymity and privacy. Then there were a couple of hundred years where people could go about their business, if they chose to, in relative secrecy.

It’s fair to say that the early days of the information age gifted people with even more ability to interact anonymously and privately. In the days of modems and bulletin board systems, and even in the early days of the Internet, online communication was the preserve of the true techies – the masses and the government paid very little attention, making the Internet a safe haven for the few.

Of course, all this has now changed. The Internet is ubiquitous, and social media, along with “big data,” has taken everything to a new level. Billions of people now share the minutiae of their daily lives on a minute-to-minute basis, and as countless revelations have proved, most of this information is easily accessible – both to governments and to determined hackers.

So, in essence, we’ve come full circle. It’s now possible to “know everybody’s business” as was the case before the Industrial Revolution – only now it’s on a global scale, and often a mere Google search away.

Why does data encryption matter to ME?

Let’s stay with “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” for a moment.

If you don’t feel you have anything to hide, it can seem like quite a compelling argument. Even as a techie (since before the Internet was even “a thing,”) I’ve mulled it over myself in the past.

The thing is, I don’t really have anything to hide. My writing’s all over the Internet, and I’ve even written a book about when I lived abroad, so I’m hardly shy about sharing my thoughts. I’ve been on Facebook since the early days, and use it regularly to interact with friends.

Social Media

It’s not like I’m in my 20s anymore, when I might not have wanted my bosses or my family to know I was going out raving. I’m not engaged in any criminal activity whatsoever, and my “tastes and urges” are, to be frank, tediously “vanilla.” There’s nothing going on in my life to interest the likes of the NSA, that’s for sure.

So, I have “nothing to fear,” right? Well, thinking about it more deeply it’s far more complicated than that. There’s plenty of information I share with my wife, but not my friends; There’s plenty I share with my friends, but not my clients; And there’s even plenty I share with my Facebook “friends” that I wouldn’t share publicly.

Here are just a few examples of things someone with “nothing to hide” perhaps wouldn’t want to shout from the rooftops:

  • Their recent choice of self-help books from the “Mind, Body and Spirit” section.
  • The results of the Google search for that embarrassing little health complaint.
  • Searches for new jobs, properties or even relationships.
  • “Anonymous” contributions to newspaper comment sections – particularly concerning politics.
  • Details of loans, investments and other financial transactions.
  • Time spent gazing at celebrity gossip or celebrity photos.
  • What was said about one friend to another friend on a social network.

That list only scratches the surface, but serves to prove the point that we all have something to hide – and it’s rather strange that we hide certain things from our friends and family whilst having no qualms about sharing them with the likes of Facebook and Google.

Where does data encryption come in?

Ultimately, what we all post on social media is up to us. We just have to understand that every item of information adds another piece to the huge “big data” puzzle. Every time you “like” something on Facebook, the service learns a little more about you – although it sometimes jumps to conclusions, as it appeared to when certain advertisers seemed to misjudge my sexuality in the days after I checked into a Kylie Minogue concert in London’s Hyde Park. Obviously I was only there to see Nile Rodgers supporting 😉

Kylie

Anyway, data encryption isn’t going to stop you oversharing or “over-liking,” but it can vastly reduce the information you give away involuntarily while you browse the Web.

All the time you are browsing the Web, you’re giving a record of what you do to various parties, including Google and your Internet Service Provider – and you don’t have to.

Where to start with data encryption?

The first thing I’d suggest you do is invest in a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service. This will allow you to connect to the Internet via an encrypted private server and shield your real location. This immediately means you give less away to your ISP, as all your traffic is routed via this server.

If you also log out of your Google and Facebook accounts, you’ll make things harder for them too. Even better, search using DuckDuckGo and nobody will track your searches.

I’d suggest taking a look at Express VPN as a starting point. This service only maintains a record of when you connect – and not the sites you visit.

If you want, you can go a step further and choose a VPN provider with a zero-logging policy. This means they don’t even keep records of when you connect. Air VPN is worth a look if you want a super private service like this.

Data encryption and online privacy is a huge topic, and we’ve barely scratched the surface here. My intention was to bust the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” myth, which I hope I’ve done.

If you want to find out more, here’s some suggested follow up reading.

I’ll finish with a very relevant quote from whistle-blower Edward Snowden:

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

Even if you have nothing to hide, you DO have something to fear when your closest friends know less about you than large tech companies. It’s time to stop making life easy for them.

IMAGE CREDITS: Pixabay, Wikipedia


Ben Taylor Ben was a geek long before "geek chic," learning the ropes on BBC Micros, before moving on to Atari STs and IBM compatibles. He was "online" using a 1200bps modem before the Internet was even a thing. Now, after two decades in the industry, he writes about technology for various publications, operates a few websites of his own, and runs a bespoke IT consultancy based in London.

Related Coverage


5 responses to “Why Data Encryption Still Matters if you have Nothing to Hide

  1. The most essential reason why privacy is important is of a simpler, less political and more basic nature than whether or not one may have anything to hide.

    It is quite simply, at a most basic level, in and of itself, profoundly dehumanising to be made by others’ abusive sharing of knowledge of you incapable of exercising one’s individual agency in accordance with basic human dignity and the most fundamental of natural human rights as concerns the matter of choosing what of oneself is shared with others and with whom it is shared. Men and women repugnantly unevolved and overly preoccupied with physical possessions might typically be more preoccupied with their capacity to choose what of their physical property they share with others and who accesses or makes use of it but for the properly evolved, knowledge of oneself and other such personal aspects of oneself are perhaps the most precious thing that they could wish to share with others or protect from being accessed or made use of by others.

  2. Journalists, bloggers, human rights workers, dissidents, attorneys and opposition politicians in countries ruled by brutal, despotic governments all need digital privacy. Their work — and their lives — depend on privacy.

    In the U.S., investigative journalists have been jailed and fined for refusing to divulge the identities of their confidential sources. And anonymous sources have been fired and prosecuted. Clearly, journalists and leakers need digital privacy, too.

    For these reasons and the ones cited by the author, everyone needs digital privacy. A VPN and encrypted cell phones are good starts to protect privacy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *