When discussing privacy, one of the first justifications for intrusions comes in the form of dismissal. “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This belief is fallacious on many accounts and is dangerous because it warps the discussion.

In most cases, this argument is used relative to government surveillance. Perhaps because governments attempt to justify their spying efforts on tracking down criminals, people are more prone to acquiesce to the exposure of their personal information. Unfortunately, governments are not the only entities keeping tabs on individuals. Every time you use a “free” service on the internet you can bet that they are collecting data on your habits and selling them to third parties. Data mining is estimated to be a roughly $50 billion industry and quickly growing.

So if you’re not scouring the internet for instructions on making pipe bombs or where to obtain the freshest batch of heroin, should you really be concerned over electronic tracking?

The problem with accepting the argument of nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide is that it equates privacy with secrecy. It transforms the discussion from having legitimate desires for keeping private information out of massive databases into a false allegation of hiding illegal or bad things. This misrepresents the true issue.

Most people would be quick to point out that they keep doors closed and shades drawn while taking a shower because they prefer not to put their naked body on display. This is privacy. We write love letters and seal them in envelopes rather than writing them on post cards because the words are intended for their recipient alone. Moving into the electronic frontier, these common notions of privacy become the exception to the rule. Every click of the mouse and push of a button is recorded within multiple databases. This information is not only sent along to the government for scrutiny of potential wrongdoing (resulting in unfounded arrests), but sold to businesses without your knowledge and remain susceptible to falling into the hands of criminals.

Regardless of whether one has anything to hide, every individual has a fundamental right to remain reasonably anonymous in interactions if he so chooses. This does not infer that choosing to be anonymous makes one an insidious character worthy of your own comic book series. Rather, it is an integral part of a free society.

Thankfully, there are many very simple steps one may take in order to reduce the exposure to data mining. Stay tuned for simple passive measures to increase electronic anonymity.