On Privacy and ‘Nothing to Hide’

There’s a book excerpt at the Chronicle of Higher Education that takes apart the argument that privacy isn’t necessary if you have nothing to hide.

[S]uppose government officials learn that a person has bought a number of books on how to manufacture methamphetamine. That information makes them suspect that he’s building a meth lab. What is missing from the records is the full story: The person is writing a novel about a character who makes meth. When he bought the books, he didn’t consider how suspicious the purchase might appear to government officials, and his records didn’t reveal the reason for the purchases. Should he have to worry about government scrutiny of all his purchases and actions? Should he have to be concerned that he’ll wind up on a suspicious-persons list? Even if he isn’t doing anything wrong, he may want to keep his records away from government officials who might make faulty inferences from them. He might not want to have to worry about how everything he does will be perceived by officials nervously monitoring for criminal activity. He might not want to have a computer flag him as suspicious because he has an unusual pattern of behavior.

The excerpt points to data aggregation by governments as a bigger current threat to privacy than the surveillance used to collect that data. Read the whole thing here.


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Monday Link Roundup

A South Carolina prison has banned all books except the Bible.

A recent mini-trend in young adult books has been teenage girls in a dystopian world that values only their bodies.

Last week, Senator John Rockefeller introduced a do-not-track bill.

Cara at the Curvature on why recent sensationalist headlines about rape in the Congo are problematic.

Adrienne K. on why playing Indian is offensive.

Hugo Schwyzer on the double-whammy of eating disorders and the rapid recovery narrative.

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Is Michele Bachmann smarter than a high schooler?

New Jersey high school student Amy Myers has written an open letter challenging Rep. Michele Bachmann to a public test of her knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. Here’s an excerpt:

My name is Amy Myers. I am a Cherry Hill, New Jersey sophomore attending Cherry Hill High School East. As a typical high school student, I have found quite a few of your statements regarding The Constitution of the United States, the quality of public school education and general U.S. civics matters to be factually incorrect, inaccurately applied or grossly distorted. The frequency and scope of these comments prompted me to write this letter.

Though I am not in your home district, or even your home state, you are a United States Representative of some prominence who is subject to national media coverage. News outlets and websites across this country profile your causes and viewpoints on a regular basis. As one of a handful of women in Congress, you hold a distinct privilege and responsibility to better represent your gender nationally. The statements you make help to serve an injustice to not only the position of Congresswoman, but women everywhere. Though politically expedient, incorrect comments cast a shadow on your person and by unfortunate proxy, both your supporters and detractors alike often generalize this shadow to women as a whole.

Either Michele Bachmann knows less than a high school student about the U.S. Constitution, or she’s thrown out what she does know in favor of playing dog-whistle politics. Either way, it’s pretty sad.

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Neat-o waves with pendulums:


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Thursday Link Roundup

It’s coming out that the Peace Corps has routinely “ignored [volunteers’] concerns for safety or requests for relocation, and tried to blame rape victims for their attacks.”

If you don’t already care that the state of Indiana has de-funded Planned Parenthood, here’s why you should.

Echidne of the Snakes deconstructs a study that purports to show that your ladybrain makes you totes more compassionate than teh menz!

On language and feminist practice.

How your American Girl doll (or lack thereof) shaped the rest of your life – 90s nostalgia, anyone? Speaking of dolls, why is this a thing, and more importantly, why does it have 12,568 likes on Facebook?

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Currently Reading

I’m currently reading North and South, and Margaret Hale is getting on my nerves. Why is she always so tired? Why doesn’t she tell her parents that she won’t be their go-between? Why is she so preachy??? (To be fair, I’m only a third of the way through the novel; maybe she’ll redeem herself by the end.)

As a consolation, though, I’ve learned a new pronoun.

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Appeals Court Orders VA to Improve Mental Health System

From the Associated Press:

In the strongly worded ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it takes the department an average of four years to fully provide the mental health benefits owed veterans.

The court also said it often takes weeks for a suicidal vet to get a first appointment.

“No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the three-judge panel. “Having chosen to honor and provide for our veterans by guaranteeing them the mental health care and other critical benefits to which they are entitled, the government may not deprive them of that support through unchallengeable and interminable delays.”

The court said a 2007 report by the Office of the Inspector General found significant delays in timely referrals from VA doctors for treatment of PTSD and depression. Fewer than half of the patients received same-day mental evaluations while others had to wait as long as two months for a counseling session. [all emphasis mine]

I sincerely hope that the Department of Veterans Affairs remedies this situation soon. This strikes a nerve with me, as I have been in therapy and on medication for depression for almost two years; near the beginning of my illness, I was seriously contemplating suicide, and I am honestly not sure if I would have survived without getting help. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had had to wait two months for an initial therapy appointment.

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