If You Have Nothing to Hide...

March 5, 2020
General Law

On a Rant… “If You Have Nothing to Hide……”

This phrase has popped up in several conversations recently, and it drives me crazy. “Well, if you have nothing to hide,” why not allow the police to search your car; take a lie detector test; let the doorkeeper at big-box-store check your receipt? If this becomes our standard: that we only care about protecting our privacy rights when we have something to hide, then what becomes of our privacy rights?  By default, unless we agree to compromise them, then we are obviously guilty of something.  Unacceptable.

We are privileged to have both the state and federal constitutional protections for privacy.  Unless there is a justifiable reason for intrusion, you are entitled to it, and in my humble opinion, should just say, “no.”  Please do not misconstrue this as a call to be uncooperative with law enforcement. They have a tough enough job, the way it is.  But I propose that respectfully declining a request to search your person or property, absent a warrant or probable cause is your obligation to ensure that privacy rights afforded each of us under the Constitution are not eroded away by people who think, “if you have nothing to hide….”  You might also note; however, that if you decline, and law enforcement decides they do have probable cause to do it anyway, you should cooperate… or at least not be obstructive.  This could get you into a whole heap of other trouble you do not want to deal with. 

What about the lie detector test?  This test measures a change in the electrical resistance of the skin that is a physicochemical response to emotional arousal which increases sympathetic nervous system activity.  In many people, lying causes anxiety (emotional arousal).  However, in many people, just being hooked up to a machine and asked questions about topics that are troubling causes anxiety.  A lie detector test is not admissible as evidence of guilt in a court of law because it does not produce reliable evidence of guilt.  The term “lie detector” is, itself, a lie. 

“Can I see your receipt?” “Do you have reason to believe I have stolen something?”  This is the correct response, designed to safeguard your privacy, unless you are at one of those places where you have signed a membership agreement.  Those likely contain a clause stating that you agree to cooperate with the store’s policy of checking receipts.  

The moral of this rant: a right that you do not protect is likely to go wrong.