While there is an outcry amongst the media, academia and netizens in general, the mere mortal citizen argues, that PRISM, Tempora and other surveillance tools are not a concern. There is a dangerous attitude at work, a mix of “i have nothing to hide” and “they [secret services] will not do any harm”. Recent data shows the flaw in this kind of ideology.
First of all, everyone has something to hide. That is why we lock the doors to our apartments and that is why we leave the room, if we have a serious conversation of the phone. That is the reason why we don’t want people messing around with our cellphone, that is why we seal our letters and don’t send postcards instead. In the digital age, browser history is a particularly delicate matter: you would be surprised what people look at on the internet, either out of curiosity or deeper interest. I often find myself reading weird articles on Wikipedia without even knowing, what I was looking for in the first place. A recent survey by the Guardian showed that pornography is still a top-usage scenario on the web. 12.5% of German web-traffic aims at pornography or in other words, 1 in 10 website visits leads to porn. Other statistics indicate, that almost the entire male population consumes porn in one form or another. While this might be generally acceptable in a liberal society, the content of some of these pages might not necessarily be. If you happen to stumble (purely by accident of course) on a porn site, just take a look at the porn-categories or tags. There is crazy stuff going on and the porn industry comes up with the weirdest scenarios and combinations. No idea what I’m talking about? “Dad-doing-daughter” and other inbreeding scenarios are quite common and there is even more morally questionable stuff. The reason why I discuss this is simple: If 12.5 % of the web-traffic leads to porn, a lot of people get in contact with these extreme videos which are morally contested to say the least. Those extreme videos would not exist, if there wouldn’t be any demand for them. Chances are, that “i-have-nothing-to-hide” citizens are among those 12.5%. You don’t think so because you think you are a moral person going to church every sunday? Bad News: Statistics from the US indicate, that porn consumptions among “conservatives”, meaning those who claim to be especially moral, is quite high. Of course that does not mean, that the same is necessarily true in Germany, but there is reason to believe that. Other evidence shows, that the muslim-countries, who also have strong religious values, also consume a lot of porn. Even if you are a good citizen who goes to church on sundays, chances are, that you watch porn. The question you should then ask yourself is: Would you really want to have your browser history presented as evidence if you happen to be at a court case? Most likely not.
We just learned, that a tool called XKeyscore can monitor any Internet-traffic in real time. Your Facebook-stalking, sexting and flirting and browser history all inclusive. Do you really want, that a secret service knows details about you, that you hide from your wife and therefore use the “private surfing” function of your browser?
Some might say, “why should I worry, they won’t target me!”. This is a highly dangerous example as the Michael Blume case shows. Michael Blume is a scientist and the prototype of a decent, religious citizen, who seemed to have nothing to hide. However, without doing bad things, he became a target, simply because of algorithms employed by security institutions.
This leads to the my second point: your actions might be totally innocent, but can you guarantee for the actions of your friends? Mathematics is not your friend, especially the logic of “degrees of separation”, which leads NSA-analysts directly to friends-of-friends, thus increasing the target population of a suspect to the millions. Well what does that mean? You might have heard of the “small-world-phenomenon”, meaning, that chances are high, that you have someone, who knows someone, who knows Barack Obama (simply speaking). This works the other way around: chances are, that you have a friend, who as a friend who met someone on his vacation in Egypt who is connected to a Taliban in Afghanistan. If a secret service targets this Taliban and asks: who does he know and does he have contacts to Europe for example, they can become aware of you. Especially if you were at the wrong time and place once if. Cases like this happen all the time.
So, without even knowing you might be in a NSA-Database, just because you have the wrong contacts or even by visiting the wrong website. It does not necessarily matter what you did, it matters what people beyond your control are doing. Therefore a “i-have-nothing-to-hide” ideology does not protect you from being target just like a “i-dont-fight”-attitude does not protect you when someone attacks. Right now almost every citizen on this planet is being attacked and everyone has something to hide!