I just got around to reading Bruce Schneier’s latest Crypto-Gram – it contains an excellent essay on the value of privacy.
Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.
Later, he quotes Solzhenitsyn (I’m not wild about Solzhenitsyn’s Mother Russia reactionary crabbiness, but if anyone can talk about the surveillance/police state, he’s the one):
“As every man goes through life he fills in a number of forms for the record, each containing a number of questions… There are thus hundreds of little threads radiating from every man, millions of threads in all. If these threads were suddenly to become visible, the whole sky would look like a spider’s web, and if they materialized as rubber bands, buses; trams and even people would all lose the ability to move, and the wind would be unable to carry torn-up newspapers or autumn leaves along the streets of the city. They are not visible, they are not material, but every man is constantly aware of their existence…. Each man, permanently aware of his own invisible threads, naturally develops a respect for the people who manipulate the threads.”