The "Nothing to Hide" Equation

Those concerned about Constitutional rights not just being chipped away, but rather, being slashed are often met with the argument that "if you have nothing to hide then why worry?"

For a moment, let's assume that the "nothing to hide" straw man argument has a right to set foot on the stage of this debate and let's see if it applies across the board.

For those who have memories that go back to the time known as the "pre-2000 election" period, the memory of privacy rights might look a little like the following: An individual = privacy rights / The government = transparency in the carrying out of its functions.

Today, that equation has been set on its head. Individuals are subject to "sneaks and peeks", subject to arrest without the benefits of representation, suspects are "rendered" to countries we place on our list of human rights abusers, etc. The government, on the other hand, operates in extreme secrecy with an unprecedented number of documents being deemed classified, the invocation of executive privilege is a mantra to be said with morning breakfast, lunch, and evening meals, and all requests for information are routinely rebuffed.

Consider for a moment the following press release from People For the American Way describing yet another example in which the government is keeping secrets from its citizens:

People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) President Ralph G. Neas said today that a Justice Department demand for nearly $400,000 in fees for a FOIA request regarding the decision to seal the records of immigrants detained in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks is outrageous, and another in a series of strategies to deny access to public information.

"Apparently, they’ve taken the ‘free’ out of ‘Freedom of Information.’ If you want to learn about secret trials carried out by your government with your money, you’re going to need deep pockets", said Neas.

"It’s clear that this is just the latest tactic in the Justice Department’s ongoing effort to hide information from the American public, particularly about ‘secret’ legal proceedings for immigrants held for months and sometimes years in the wake of the terrorist attacks", said Neas. "In decades of public advocacy, we’ve never been asked to provide fees of this magnitude. They’re clearly setting up new barriers to the release of information that ought to be made public immediately. It begs the question: What are they hiding?"

PFAWF first made the FOIA request November 25, 2003. It was denied by the Justice Department on the grounds of privacy in December, 2003. PFAWF contested the decision in a lawsuit filed in August, 2004. Only after the lawsuit was filed did Justice Department officials decide to ask for the records from U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country. The department then concocted an estimate of $372,999 for the request, and asked for advance payment in a letter sent January 11, 2005. PFAWF has until February 10 to respond.

"The Freedom of Information Act was intended to give American citizens and the news media access to records that will help them protect their rights and see how the tremendous power of the government is being used. It’s especially important under one-party rule", said Neas. "We’re going to fight this outrageous demand."

Used with the permission of People For the American Way Foundation.

In light of the experience of People For the American Way and other groups and individuals attempting to find out what our "democracy" is up to, the question stands out like a sore thumb- What do they have to hide?

Better yet, since we're still hanging on to the slim reed of a democratic republic where our representatives ostensibly reflect our wills, the question should be, "What do we have to hide from ourselves?"


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