This week's Newsweek cover featured a massive phone set atop the White House with the headline "Spying On Your Calls." Micheal Hayden stares ominously at you in the Time cover next to big red letters asking "Does This Man Have Your Number?" The media in general is awash with stories and commentary about domestic spying.
I'm very pleased the reaction has been so strong but was surprised to hear on NPR today reasoning I hoped was long extinct. A reporter visited the National Mall and asked passerbys what they thought of the spying. To my surprise, they were overwhelming in favor it. One man gave the old argument that only people who have something to hide don't want the government to spy on them. This is a very scary line of reasoning, one that I've seen shot down on TV dramas, Hollywood movies and other media outlets, I naively thought it was purged from our culture. So I find it neccessary to summerize four reasons why this argument is a poor one.
Principle. Commonly the most cited argument, many, such as myself, don't think the government should spy on us not because we have something to hide but because it's wrong to do so. Similarly, I'm against the death penalty not because I think being on death row is in my future but because I find the whole idea morally repugnant.
Precedent. Another often repeated argument, this wonders if we allow the government extra ground, it acts as a stepping stone to invade our lives in other ways. We see this issue come up in the realm of the law: if we allow illegally obtained evidence to be used in court, then we've just make warrants meaningless.
Persecution. Closely related to precedent, this reason notes that when government is allowed to enter our private lives, they now have the ability to punish us for activities that have nothing to do with terrorism; for acts that are not wrong, but are illegal. (It also easier to justify making certain acts illegal if legislators know they can use NSA data to enforce them.) What's "wrong" changes from person to person.
Prosaic. This one's new to me; NPR mentioned a Jewish legal scholar that noted when people know they are being watched, they act differently, even if their actions wouldn't be seen as wrong to whoever's watching them. The mere act of spying makes society less diverse, people express themselves less, they take few risks. I wish I could remember the exact word the scholar used, but I think this one works very well.