The following thought process is quite common among Americans:

  • I know the government can read my e-mails, tap my phone calls, watch my Facebook, etc.
  • I’m not doing anything wrong… my life would probably bore an analyst to sleep.
  • So why should I care? I’ve got nothing to hide, and it probably keeps us safer!

HuffPo published an article today entitled, “Top-Secret Document Reveals NSA Spied On Porn Habits As Part Of Plan To Discredit ‘Radicalizers’.” The article details how the NSA will go through the e-mails of its targets to find not merely evidence of criminality, but anything it can use to discredit an opponent. You’re a radical Muslim but read pornography? If your followers knew, maybe they’ll think you’re less holy. You’re a U.S. military officer who doesn’t tow the political line? Maybe revealing your affair will force you to resign.

Back to the thought process described at the beginning, if you think you have “nothing” to hide, perhaps you were thinking “nothing criminal.” That’s likely not true since, because we’ve criminalized virtually everything, the average American commits 3 felonies per day, generally not even knowing. But even if it were true, it doesn’t matter: someone who knows everything about you can destroy you. Perhaps there’s a youthful indiscretion that, if known, would cost you your job. Or perhaps you merely snuck out of work for a few hours without telling your boss. Maybe you don’t want it revealed that you’re gay. Or a supporter of a particular political cause. Or afflicted by a mental disorder.

Maybe you’re 100% “pure” and have no vices. But someone who knows everything about you can set you up. They would know just how to make it seem like something was done the way you would do it, and just what it would take to convince everyone in your life to believe the lie, because they’re spying on them too.

But they’d never do that to you personally, because why would they target you? Ahh, they probably wouldn’t do it to you now. But maybe in 5 years, there’s a popular political movement that you feel you can’t support. Or your favorite hobby has been branded a criminal act. Or maybe you just pissed off an NSA analyst by taking the last Xbox 360 at Walmart on Black Friday.

Your privacy is important, even if you’re doing absolutely nothing wrong. A society in which the government can pick any one of us to crush is a scenario much more dangerous than a middle eastern terrorist.