Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Brown: A Real-Life Example of Why Privacy Matters

Those of us in the privacy business have heard the riposte -- "Why should I care about privacy? I have nothing to hide." -- more times than we want to count. It's considered impolitic to say, "Well, I happen to know that your Aunt Sally is in prison for murdering your grandmother, and your Uncle Bob..." Instead we present a hypothetical, "Suppose you had just been diagnosed with some dread disease, but you were just in the midst of looking for a new job and didn't want a potential employer to know..."

The problem with hypotheticals is that they are imaginary. There is rarely oomph to this form of argument, and the unconvinced remain skeptical. After all, if the skeptics could do hypotheticals, they wouldn't be asking "Why protect privacy?" The revelation of the illegal and appalling methods used by News of the World reporters to uncover private information about politicians, princes, and ordinary people in the midst of personal crises has the side effect of demonstrating the emptiness of the "I don't have anything to hide; why should I care about privacy?" response.

Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer when his infant son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. That Brown was head of Her Majesty's Treasury was public business. That his son was seriously ill was not. Yet the Sun published details on the child's health. Gordon Brown had nothing to hide, but information on his son's medical condition was -- er, should have been -- private.

That demonstrates better than anything why, even when you have nothing to hide, your privacy matters. I wouldn't have predicted that Rupert Murdoch would be the one pointing this out, but sometimes life works out in unexpected ways.