“I have nothing to hide”. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”  I hear these comments so often that I wanted to take a few minutes to address this notion. People who make these comments don’t seem to be concerned with their privacy being eroded or people searching their phones. There are many people who think that since they’re not criminals that they are not afraid to have someone search through their phones.

Saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide, is like saying that you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.

edward snowden
Edward Snowden

There are many legitimate reasons for wanting to keep your personal information private.

Why do we lock our homes? Not only are we trying to prevent robberies, or worse crimes, we don’t want people just walking through our homes and snooping through our personal stuff without being invited. Do you leave your windows open when you’re taking a shower or changing your clothes?

Would you allow someone, even law enforcement, to come into your house and start searching without a search warrant? Of course not! We would go ballistic if someone did that. You don’t want anyone to go through all of your personal belongings, sift through your clothes in your drawers (don’t let them find your dirty magazines or videos under the socks), your personal files, pictures (better hide those cute pictures of your 18 month old taking a bath), your collection of movies/CDs/books (did you hide those playboy videos), rip apart all of your kitchen cupboards (is that sugar or some other white powder), your medicine cabinet (are you really using oxycodone for yourself).

There are so many things that can and will be easily misinterpreted. Of course, you think that you will be able to explain yourself and talk your way out of these situations. Since you have done nothing wrong, you will be forgiven and not arrested? Even if you can walk out of this scenario unscathed, what will your neighbours think? What will they believe considering they witnessed police scrummaging through your belongings?

These scenarios don’t just happen to the guilty. They happen to the innocent many more times. Not everyone who talks to the police is a criminal!

Now, let’s take this one step further. We live in a world where our phones are an extended part of our bodies and lives. To stand there while someone conducts a digital strip search of your phone has got to be one of the most degrading feelings. They have access to your whole life literally – any and everything about your life, family, friends, work, bank accounts, passwords, searches you conduct, websites you visit, applications you use, social media posts, record of your phone calls, places you visit, photos (including intimate ones that you share with your partner or your partner shares with you) or any other normal private matters that you are entitled to keep to yourself. We all have information that we want to be kept private.  This is not only a violation to our human rights to privacy, but degradation to our dignity.

Privacy is a fundamental human right recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties. Privacy underpins human dignity and other key values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. We have been granted the right to privacy but it is being slowly chipped away by both governments and corporations. This erosion of privacy is worthy of a separate blog article that I will write shortly.

Still not convinced that Privacy matters? Let me offer 9 practical reasons to keep your personal and sensitive information private. These are in no particular order.

1. Personal identity theft and fraud

Identity theft is currently the number-one rated cybercrime, and as the internet grows, so will the number of individuals whose identities are stolen online. Identity theft occurs when someone gains access to your personal information and pretends to be you. Individuals who have accessed your personal data can retrieve your login information for various websites or commit cybercrimes such as fraud, all while posing as you. Identity theft is the type of crime that can have long-lasting repercussions for both your electronic privacy and your reputation (online and in the real world).

The more information the culprit can gather on you, the more vulnerable you are to phishing and other scams, which are often crafted to resemble legitimate communication from your bank or other institutions. These culprits can create email accounts, get credit cards and loans under your name, leaving you hanging to pay for the damages.

Avoid clicking on links in emails, especially unsolicited emails. And if anyone asks you for your private data online or on the phone, contact that institution directly by phone to follow up.

Many people feel completely safe when banking online, but protecting your banking information has never been more important. Cyber-criminals can take your banking information and make unauthorized withdrawals and transfers. Although banking websites are encrypted, you should still practice privacy protection by changing your passwords frequently and by never logging in unless you’re on your protected network at home.

Posting your travel schedule in advance could make it easier for thieves to find an empty house to rob. Someone who can access your schedule or travel itinerary by searching your phone can also ascertain when no one will be at your house.

Online stalking tied to actual theft is relatively rare, but what is increasingly common is cyberstalking with a criminal component — such as sextortion. Sextortion cases involve what are effectively online, remote sexual assaults, sometimes over great distances, sometimes even crossing international borders, and sometimes…involving a great many victims. Preventing this crime requires all the practical steps for protecting your data plus taking extra steps like covering up or disconnecting your webcam when it’s not in use and being extraordinarily careful about the sort or pictures you share online and store on your devices.

Status updates aren’t just for talking to your friends and followers; they can also give a future employer a quick gauge as to what type of employee you might be like. Sharing personal information such as your likes and dislikes about politics, religion or your current job can shut the door on future job opportunities. Be aware of what you’re posting on Facebook and Twitter, and ensure a spotless record before you get the job.

In much the same way that your social network status updates and tweets can prevent you from gaining a new job, they can also damage any chances you or your loved ones have of gaining admission to college. Recruiters and admissions clerks search for applicants online, often judging them solely on their Facebook profile. Keep your personal information private.

This same scenario can be extended to those “funny” jokes (Whatsapp videos or pictures) that may be found offensive by others. This can cause irreparable harm to you if it gets out in the wrong hands.

Furthermore, you can be denied entry into some countries based on your views.  This practice really picked up in the USA in 2017.

If you run a business, you know that practicing business reputation management is something you must do on a daily basis. Failure to protect your company’s electronic privacy can destroy your online reputation. Criminals can take your business information and create false email accounts and fake employee names and even hack into your corporate computer system. Protect your company’s digital privacy by running your intranet on a secure server.

Credit card scams are on the rise. Although improvements to SSL technology have allowed you to feel more secure using your cards online, it’s still a good idea to safeguard your credit card number and security PIN. Furthermore, you can protect yourself by asking the credit card company and credit rating agencies like Transunion, Equifax and others to add extra security questions to your account and alerts to you in the event someone tries to get a loan or a new credit card.

Having proper home insurance is often a necessity for obtaining a mortgage. Like home insurance, life insurance gives you peace of mind that your family will be protected. If you post personal information on the internet or if someone can acquire this info from your phone about risky behaviors involving you or your home, you could be denied your insurance plan. Always protect your privacy by avoiding status updates detailing behaviors that your insurance company might deem perilous.

In late 2016, The Guardian reported that one of the largest insurance companies in Britain was examining Facebook profiles to help set the cost of consumers’ car insurance.

Likewise, being involved in a lawsuit is stressful, but if you’re leaking personal data on the Web you could damage your ability to win your case.

Are you helping a friend go through some personal problems? Would they or you appreciate that information being revealed to others? Any one in this situation trusts you to keep their secrets and problems private. Maybe they have martial problems, or someone is dealing with mental illness or substance abuse. Are they on the verge of suicide? etc. This kind of information in the wrong hands may complicate problems further.

Now before we get into this topic, I can hear many people say “I don’t engage in sexting or sending nudes”. One survey from Cosmopolitan showed that 89% of millennial women have taken a nude at some point in their life and 82% would do it again. This was a small sample size of visitors to their website.

Another study conducted by McAfee showed that nearly 50% of adults have used their mobile device to receive or share inmate content. Moreover, 50% of people say that they’ve stored intimate content received on their mobile devices. That’s a lot of people who are risking their reputations if these sexts/nudes were ever shared outside of their Significant others.

There are a lot of people, not just celebrities, how have to fearful of their intimate details leaking out. This kind of leaks can not only impact one’s ability to get jobs, entrance to school but more importantly, it will impact the well being of the individual whose secrets have been released to the world.

I hope I was able to provide you with some thought provoking reasons of why privacy matters.

Check out this new documentary –  “Nothing To Hide” out now in select theaters.  This movie goes into more depth and covers more implications of deprivation of privacy.

Do you still think you have nothing to hide? Are there reasons that you can think of keep some information private?

Credits: Some of the examples of reasons for keeping your information private have been borrowed from different resources such as staysafeonline.org and reputationdefender.com.