Russian security software vendor Kaspersky has yanked an article from its website arguing that netizens shouldn't fear state surveillance unless they had done something wrong in the first place.
"Remember if you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide," the cached version of the unsigned article states.
"There is almost to zero chance that you would be of interest to any secret service on the planet. The only nuisance to you will be advertisement robots – and there are more effective tools against them than online anonymity."
The piece, entitled "Why we should not be afraid of being watched while online," was published in Kaspersky's Academy site, which is designed to foster the next generation of security talent. It was yanked almost immediately and replaced with a notice explaining it was a draft article by an independent author – something the firm's founder Eugene Kaspersky reiterated.
It's not the first time Kaspersky's founder has stirred the privacy pot with the suggestion that we have too much of it. Back in 2011 he kicked up a storm by suggesting that every internet user should be forced to use a passport showing their identity.
"I'd like to change the design of the internet by introducing regulation - internet passports, internet police and international agreement - about following internet standards. And if some countries don't agree with or don't pay attention to the agreement, just cut them off," he said at the time.
His firm's latest posting used one of the oldest canards in the privacy versus surveillance playbook - that only the 'bad guys' have something to feel from being monitored – but Kaspersky's views are common in the tech field.
Google's Eric Schmidt has made the same argument repeatedly, although he's very touchy about his own privacy – having called for control of civilian drones over private property and ordered the blacklisting of journalists that published information about his personal life found using his firm's own search engine.
Some politicians are rather fond of it too; there's seldom a debate in Congress on digital privacy without someone bringing it up. The UK's former Prime Minister Tony Blair used a keynote at the RSA 2012 security conference to passionately argue that, while politicians needed privacy to conduct negotiations, individuals should recognize that terrorism trumps privacy.
Privacy advocates argue that the only way terrorism (or a similar threat,) could only be stopped by surveillance if it was total, highly efficient, and immune from error. These are not qualities associated with government IT projects, and even if a surveillance system worked perfectly it's not the type of society most people would want to live in – and one which would give enormous power to those doing the spying.
As cited by security guru Bruce Schneier, France's 17th-century statesman Cardinal Richelieu famously stated "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged".
That is as true then as it has ever been, and the intelligence services have prying powers that would make the late cardinal drool.
Finding the balance between privacy and surveillance is probably never going to be sorted in our lifetimes. It's a tremendously complex and convoluted issue, and it's questionable if the intricacies can be covered in a handy sound bite. ®