Why 'If you have nothing to hide' are the 6 most dangerous words in the English language

America just finished celebrating its independence with a long weekend filled with barbecues, fireworks and parades. Americans all across this great and diverse land were celebrating their freedom — but what does that really mean anymore?

Far too often now, Americans are freely and without much question giving up their freedom for a sense of security and not just against terrorism.

I first realized how our nation had changed shortly after the attacks of September 11th. In November of that year I traveled to New York to attend the Student Conference on United States Affairs at West Point. As I walked down the corridor at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport leading to the security checkpoint, the place was lined with men in military uniforms with M16 rifles in hand.

I no longer felt like I was in the "land of the free and home of the brave."

I had hoped this was all temporary, that soon, we would all see how much we were sacrificing for this false sense of security. Sadly, that day has yet to come. However, our willingness to surrender our privacy for security is nothing new and it's not exclusive to the war on terror.

In the 1980s, the incarceration rate in the United States spiked out of control. Today the United States incarcerates 4.4 percent of the population and prisoners in the United States constitute 22 percent of those incarcerated worldwide. Even with this incarceration rate, drug use in this country continues to rise.

Random DUI checkpoints have also become commonplace in many states. At these checkpoints, police stop vehicles without reasonable suspicion. This practice was even sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz (1990).


Many Americans justify this practice. They say, "If you have nothing to hide, what do you have to fear?" Far too many people have become accustomed to surrendering their privacy and their freedoms in many cases for a false sense of security.

"If you have nothing to hide" are the six most dangerous words in the English language. The idea that we should surrender our privacy, simply because we are doing nothing wrong, is completely antithetical to the American spirit. The same people who created a Constitution based on the idea that as few rights as possible as surrendered by the people, rather than privileges given to the people by the government, has started to blindly trust the government.

These days, going to the airport involves lining up like cattle, removing our belts, shoes and throwing away our water, because — well, nobody has ever given me a good reason for that. All while being ushered through intrusive body scanners, random pat downs and searches based on anything but reasonable suspicion, by rude folks in uniforms.

To this day there is no evidence that TSA has ever stopped or prevented any sort of terrorist attack. They have refused to comment on the issue to various media outlets, claiming that it's a matter of "national security."

Former Alaska state Rep. Sharon Cissna was subjected to a humiliating intrusive search because TSA agents noticed that she had a prosthesis for a missing breast, which led to her leading a protest against the TSA and refusing to fly.

The America that valued individual liberty over government intrusion is seemingly a thing of the past. The tide has turned toward a promise of safety, but nobody can tell us we are actually safer.

This used to be a country of entrepreneurs, risk-takers and those who embraced the slogan "If it feels good, do it." American kids grew up jumping their bicycles off of makeshift ramps, testing the limits of dirt bikes and running into the woods without a care in the world. If we didn't come home dirty with some scratches and bruises then it certainly wasn't a successful day.

The truth is, we deserve our privacy. Individual freedom is the basis for which this country was founded. There can be no doubt that safety is important, but when we erode freedoms in some areas, we put all of them at risk.

As we recover from our long weekend at cabins, on boats or at baseball games, we should take a moment to reflect on what it is we celebrate on July Fourth every year, what it means to be an American and if we are still the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.