I was listening to a conservative talk radio show yesterday evening, and the host was bemoaning the fact that Homeland Security has dropped their proposal to record and collect license plate information due to privacy issues. He made the case that 1) license plates are public and therefore not subject to the 4th amendment; and 2) several cities are already doing this (first I heard of it) on the grounds that it helps them track criminals, terrorists, etc. Then he stated those famous words, "if you don't have anything to hide, then you don't have to worry; and if it helps catch bad guys, it's a good thing." As I listened to the show, I kept hearing callers make the same statement: "I've got nothing to hide, so they can search me, they can collect my license plate information," etc., etc. I kept getting more and more bothered, but I couldn't find a coherent train of thought to explain my uneasiness about their statements. So a few minutes ago, because it was still bothering me, I did a quick web search, and found an interesting article quoting a man named Daniel Solove; and he has already put into words what was nagging around the edges of my feeble brain. If you have nothing to hide - but do you? Solove uses the example of collecting credit card data that shows you bought a wig at one store, and a book about cancer at another store. Individually, the pieces of data are meaningless; aggregated, added together, we can infer that you have cancer. This may not be information you wanted anyone to know about you. Consider license plate tracking. We *hope* that the authorities are entering license plate numbers, and a search algorithm is looking for license plates associated with known offenders or people on a watch list; and that all the other license plate numbers are being ignored. We would also hope that credit card data is being searched for specific criteria, and all the rest is being ignored. But what happens when we start aggregating different searches? You can see from the example just how easy it is to aggregate credit card data; now, if that credit card data is associated with a license plate number, and the license plate number was recorded at an oncologist's office or a hospital -- we've increased our confidence in the inference that the individual has cancer. Taking the pieces individually does seem make one seem petty and a "rabble rouser" when you cry out about privacy and infringement upon freedoms; but when you start looking at the aggregate, suddenly you start seeing a picture forming; and then you have to ask, "is that information that I want people knowing about me?" The other half of this problem is something Solove calls "exclusion"; the rest of us call it "transparency." How are they using the data being collected? How often is the data being purged/deleted? Why are we barred from knowing how the data is being collated and used? Or whether the data is being kept indefinitely, or being searched and then deleted from record? Consider our example: Someone buying a wig is harmless. That same credit card being used to buy a book on cancer is harmless, but starts to invade privacy. That credit card tied to a license plate that visited a cancer doctor's office is more of an invasion of privacy. Now start thinking about the "extreme" scenarios: That credit card tied to a license plate, coupled with the address of a doctor's office that is under suspicion for providing radioactive materials to suspected terrorist groups -- well, I may overlook the book on cancer, and start to wonder exactly why you need a wig...and the next thing you know, someone's knocking on your door, and you have to provide the information that you do, indeed, have cancer and therefore your visits are legitimate. Is that the America you want to live in? The conservative talk radio host kept placating some of his callers by saying that he, too, doesn't trust our government, and that it's getting too big; but he kept coming back to, "if it makes us safer, then I'm all for it." These are the same issues that Google, Amazon, and retailers were being taken to task for over the last couple of years; but apparently, if it involves safety/security, it's okay. I would remind folks that yes, 9/11 was a terrible thing; but communism is also a terrible thing. I'm too young to remember McCarthyism, but I recall the lesson learned: Even though there may actually be a communist around the corner, or behind a bush, or even under your bed, the true enemy was the "suspicion and subsequent division of the American people that even their best friend might be the 'red terror' that would rise up and kill them and their way of life." We have the same situation today: There are bad, terrible, evil people that want to hurt us, our loved ones, and our way of life. But we've gone down the same road as McCarthy, and we're willing to subject ourselves to witchhunts and constant surveillance in order to feel some semblance of "safety and security." This isn't the solution. We shouldn't be allowing fear to rule our lives. Maybe you don't have anything to hide. And yes, we have people that want to kill Americans. Does that give your government the right to keep you under surveillance? Do you really trust your government enough to believe that the information will not be used? And if it won't be used -- what's the point of collecting it?