(Photo: Noah Dyer)
We live in an age in which our lives are increasingly recorded, compiled, and searchable. There's less privacy than there was a generation ago. Some people respond dismissively of this change, saying "I've got nothing to hide." Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has a standard response:
When someone debating privacy says, "but I don't have anything to hide," I am immediately suspicious. "Would you prove it by giving me access to your email accounts," I've taken to replying, "along with your credit card statements and bank records?" Not a single person has ever taken me up on that challenge–until now.
The "until now" is Noah Dyer, who is pictured above. He accepted Friedersdorf's challenge, handing over all of his online usernames and passwords, thus opening up his private life to a journalist able to expose him to a wide world.
Dyer is an anti-privacy advocate. He thinks that society is better off when there are no secrets. Friedersdorf searched through Dyer's personal information and found nothing that Dyer himself was not open about. Friedersdorf writes:
I hasten to add that I didn't unearth that detail (or any others in this story so far) via digital snooping or share it without the consent of my subject. "Over the past 5 years, I have had sex with married women whose husbands were not aware," he told me in the same initial message that included his passwords. "I have missed child support payments, settled debts, and probably done other stuff as well. Some of these things I would do again in a world without privacy. Some of them I probably would not. Some of them my co-conspirators would do again, others probably not. But each of these decisions was made in an environment where the understanding was that they would be kept private. I’m not advocating that all activities made within that context should be revealed. I’m arguing that a society that does so, going forward, will reap benefits that outweigh the cons."
To prove that he really has nothing to hide, Dyer is trying to arrange for camera crews to follow him around 24 hours a day for a full year without a single second of privacy. So Friedersdorf sees some internally consistent reasoning in Dyer's perspective:
Dyer is an honest man committing to an ethical code he believes to be righteous. He is trying to make the world better. He doesn't believe people should have a right to privacy, so he is ceding his own. These traits and impulses are worthy of some respect.
But Friedersdorf notices that there's a real problem with Dyer's vision for a privacy-free life. No one gets to share a private moment with him:
The world he wants to create is one where there would be no option to refrain from revealing to colleagues that you'll have hemorrhoids surgery while on vacation; where girls going through puberty could only talk to their mothers about getting their periods in public; and where every time a potential romantic partner rejects you, it happens for all to see. Think of everyone who has ever kept a confidence you bestowed in a moment of need or vulnerability. All of them had this in common: They had something to hide.