Do those with nothing to hide really have nothing to fear? - Veterinary Practice
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Do those with nothing to hide really have nothing to fear?

PERISCOPE continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

THE revelation by a former contract worker for the USA Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) that the e-mails, phone conversations and internet usage of many “ordinary” citizens are routinely trawled through has stirred up strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

One view is that the Government (or anybody else) has no right to listen in to and monitor our private communications without first having good reason to suspect us of wrong-doing and by then following due process to obtain permission to do so.

The opposite viewpoint is that only by “listening in” can information of a suspicious nature be uncovered in the first place. And, as the supporters of “snooping” are keen to shout from the rooftops, “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”.

Now I remember once reading a piece by Rabbi Lionel Blue in which he pontificated on how he imagined the Last Judgement might be. As I remember, he suggested that God would sit us on his knee and take us through everything we had done in our lives with nothing edited, and we would observe it through the eyes of a third party. Sometimes, in moments of peace and solitude, I look back over certain incidents in my own life in much the way suggested and … cringe. Did I really do/say that?

How many of us would be completely comfortable with showing a video of everything we’ve ever said and done to our nearest and dearest? And I mean everything. To what lengths would we go to prevent some of that video being shown to them or at the very least only after radical editing? I respectfully suggest that those who would be unfazed by such a scenario are either as thick-skinned as a rhinoceros or have led extremely boring lives!

“But if you’ve nothing to hide you have nothing to fear,” say the soothsayers. Well, do you think Prince Harry was entirely at ease with photos of him playing strip billiards being plastered over the front pages of the tabloids? There was no suggestion that he was doing anything illegal (though he must have been a lousy billiard player to end up in that parlous state of undress), but I presume he would rather have kept the whole event hidden from anyone other than those who were actually there at the time.

If he had been offered the chance to prevent publication by either doing or not doing something that would have pleased the owner of the photos, who knows what decision he might have come to. Who knows what decision any one of us might come to in similar, or perhaps more embarrassing and shameful circumstances.

“You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.” Well I’m sorry but there are plenty of things in my life that I am mightily ashamed of having done. And I’m not talking about shinning up a lamp-post at the age of 30 and swinging from the cross member. In fact I’m fairly proud of actually having been able to do that at the age of 30 because I certainly couldn’t do it now.

I daresay, though, that there is some law against what I did, the breaking of which I was not brought to book for. And if mobile phones had been around in those days and I had been secretly filmed and the film sent to the RCVS, would I have ended up in front of a disciplinary committee for bringing the profession into disrepute?

More serious…

As I remember, vets certainly have ended up in front of such committees in the past for the likes of “buzzing” public buildings in their private planes (which I grant is a tad more serious and exciting than climbing a lamp-post though if I’d had a private plane at the time who knows what I’d have done). But, you get my point?

What might seem like a good idea at the time when in party mood, might look, and actually be, extremely silly and embarrassing in the cold light of day. How many of us have resolved, when realising in the morning exactly where we have spent the night, not to drink so much in the future? Well if you’ve not, rhinos and anoraks are the two words that spring to mind.

Now, the badger cull in England has been approved and there are some very vociferous opponents to it taking place. Some of you may have strong opinions as to what should be done to such opponents but in a democratic society they are entitled to hold such views and to express them forcefully within the constraints of the law.

But how convenient would it be for the Government if by trawling through the personal e-mails and texts of some of these “thorns in their side” they found out something rather juicy and embarrassing about them?

Lurid messages

What if they came across some rather lurid and explicit messages that were not exchanged between husband and wife, so to speak? (Not, I hasten to add, that I am in the habit of exchanging lurid texts and e-mails with my wife – the chance would be a fine thing!)

Is it not possible that such people who were creating “difficulties” for the Government, and who have “nothing to hide (because they’re not breaking the law) and therefore nothing to fear”, would be gently “leaned on” to tone down the vociferous nature of their protest … or else.

It is, of course, blackmail by any other name but how could the person so threatened possibly complain without “outing” themselves? I have enough experience of crossing swords with Government to know that there are ways and means of putting on pressure that are very difficult to resist.

In my view, constant monitoring of our private lives by Government (on the pretext that it is saving us from ourselves or for the greater good) should be resisted on all fronts. My advice for those who really do have “nothing to hide” is either to get themselves a life or instead sit back smugly in the sure knowledge of receiving their just desserts when they are finally canonised.

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