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‘I have nothing to hide. Why should I care about privacy?’

Lisa Ho, campus privacy officer | January 25, 2017

(with co-contributor Professor Ken Goldberg)

In celebration of Data Privacy Day (Jan. 28), we offer three reasons for the university community to care about privacy.

1. Learning is personal

Overhead view of woman writing in notebook on a desk with books and tea mug.

As much as we grow through our community, learning is essentially an internal transformation.

Keeping grades, letters of recommendation, and evaluations private is not about hiding. It’s about keeping assessments candid and providing feedback for learning — without branding people with a reputation to live up to or live down.

Protecting student privacy is also federal law.


2. Creativity requires time to develop and freedom to take risks

Two-part image of a scientist holding a flask and pipette and an artist wearing a vapor mask working with gallon cans of paint on the floor.

(Image of painter: Sam Javanrouh)

Distribution of your unpublished paper, research, book, artwork, proposal, thesis, patent, theory, algorithm, opinion, analysis, review, protest, composition, piece, etc. should remain under your control until you are ready to share it broadly. It’s not about hiding ideas, it’s about developing them.

“A society in which people can be monitored at all times is a society that breeds conformity and obedience and submission.

“It is a realm of privacy, the ability to go somewhere and think and reason and interact and speak without the judgmental eyes of others being cast upon us [editor: until we are ready], in which creativity and exploration and dissent exclusively reside.”

Glenn Greenwald

see also Sara Lewis: “How Privacy Fuels Creativity


3. It’s a fundamental right

Free Speech Movement march at Sather Gate

(Free Speech Movement sign under Sather Gate, University Archives photo, courtesy of Bancroft Library. 1964.)

“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.

“You can’t give away the rights of others because they’re not useful to you. [editor: you just might find you need those rights some day]

“Nobody needs to justify why they ‘need’ a right.”

Edward Snowden


Privacy is like oxygen:
It’s invisible and easy to ignore…until it’s taken away.

Read more about privacy or join a privacy event this month.

Comment to “‘I have nothing to hide. Why should I care about privacy?’

  1. “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. This argument assumes you have privacy on campus, or anywhere else for that matter. You do not. The difference between overt surveillance like cameras, and covert surveillance, again cameras. With covert you’re being watched, and with overt you’re being watched, but, when you’re assaulted by the police you have a right to the overtly obtained footage of your assault. With covert surveillance the police pretend no such footage exists. Overt surveillance is a two way surveillance. The watchers and the watched are being watched, and thus, both parties will curtail any behavior that might violate the law, or civil rights of either party. Covert, or overt, either way you’re being watched, so as a citizen, you might as well be able to access the surveillance footage if necessary. Case in point, I f you think your personal information isn’t saved when posting here you’re wrong.

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