"Only guilty people have something to hide" fallacy?

Often in debates, particular in regards to human rights/privacy/etc the argument will degrade into “Only guilty people have something to hide”. To me this logic seems flawed since it assumes an intent to maintain privacy (for example) has some negative motive.

It seems like some kind of logical fallacy, but I can’t seem to find out what exactly it is. I’d like to know because this quote comes up a lot in debates and its much simpler to counter it with something very concise and specific.

It’s not a logical fallacy, it’s simply an axiom, all that you need to do is prove that it is wrong. Ask them how often they engage in anal sex or something similarly personal. As soon as they hesitate to answer you have disproved the axiom and can then discount it. Innocent people have all sorts of things that we would like to keep hidden.

Everybody has privacy and we would rather that the world not know about our stash of legal porn, or whatnot in its crusade to uncover communists, or whatever.

False Dilemna? “Either one is willing to divulge information, or one is guilty”

Affirmation of the Consequent?

“People who are guilty will withhold information.
This person is withholding information.
Therefore, this person is guilty.” <- does not follow

It’s bollocks mostly because it assumes the information will only be gained by someone who’s not interested in screwing you over.

For instance, if I’m negotiating for a car, I don’t show the dealer the content of my wallet.

An appeal to paranoia?

It sidesteps the issue and puts the burden on the victim.

It does not address the right of the person wishing to spy on you to do so.

I may have nothing to hide, but you have no authority to look.

It’s a trick to get the innocent to surrender their rights to clear their name.

Everybody’s got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey.

The way you’ve phrased it: it’s not a logical fallacy, it’s a false proposition. “People have something to hide if and only if they are guilty”. That’s not true, because people have lots of things they’d like to keep private, for a variety of reasons, even if they are not guilty. You don’t want people to know your date of birth, address or credit card details because of the risk of fraud and identity theft, you might not want the government to have your fingerprints because you’re worried people with sinister motives might get access to it, you don’t want strangers to read your emails because they’re private and personal. All of those are reasons people have something to hide without being guilty, which means the proposition above is false.

Asian_Riff had some good examples of the type of logical fallacies that could produce this false proposition as a conclusion.

So, is it safe to assume that under various government’s National Security Acts, there are a lot of guilty people getting away with all sorts of stuff? Otherwise, what have they got to hide? Surely they wouldn’t mind certain selected people having a poke around in their “private” affairs?

I think the argument behind this statement might be:

  1. The only thing a person could need to hide is evidence of his own guilt.

  2. Only the guilty have evidence of their own guilt.

  3. Therefore, only the guilty have something to hide.

I think this is logically a good argument, but statement #1 is just incorrect.

In reply, ask them to tell you their Social Security Number.

Or their online banking account number and password.

The assumption is that in looking, law enforcement people will find evidence of innocence and move on. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The alarmingly high number of convictions overturned by the Innocence Project bears witness to the fact that investigators often go searching for evidence that supports their conclusion, and that’s a self-fulfilling exercise.

The fallacy is the assumption that factual innocence is relevant to the criminal prosecution process.

The problem is that we equate hide = bad.

This is not the case.

There are lots of things that just aren’t anyone else’s business.

I don’t have anything to hide, but I have things I don’t wish to share with the general populace. I do believe in the fact that not everything is everyone else’s business.

In my day we didn’t air our dirty laundry in public. Not so now. Just overlisten to anyone else’s cell phone conversation. You will find out who’s doing what to whom and so forth. At work a few days ago a woman I just met five seconds ago told me the reason she didn’t get any sleep was because her husband was bugging her for sex and she didn’t want to give it to him. (I work overnights).

Ah why are you telling this to a complete stranger, was my first thought. You could’ve said, I had things that stopped me from getting proper sleep.

But yet this axiom assumes hide is somehow bad.

And statement #2. Plenty of innocent people may have some evidence that would falsely point to their guilt.

Or ask them to leave the bathroom door open in a public restroom, or open their bedroom windows at night, or…

Of course the extreme authoritarian can counter many of the arguments presented here with “Of course I’m not going to tell YOU my Social Security number, or everything I do in my private life, but I shouldn’t have trouble telling it to a responsible authority performing their duties as a public servant”. As noted, the assumption is that said authority is infallible, uninterested in your private affairs beyond determining that they aren’t relevant to the investigation at hand, and will keep secrets. If such wise, angelic creatures existed, the argument would actually hold water. Unfortunately, they don’t.

This is my first instinct.

This is really the point. The assertion that only the guilty have something to hide *assumes *that the checkers are incorruptible and have only and always the legally correct & socially beneficial goals. For your personal definition of legally correct & socially beneficial. This applies to both the individual checkers and whatever organization they work for.

There do seem to be a lot of not-very-thoughtful middle class Americans who think this of the authorities in a naive, almost charming, high school civics sense.

But ask them if they’d gladly agree to be selected for a random audit by the IRS and their true colors will show nstantly. Simple hypocracy at work; they’d be glad to give up your rights, but not theirs.

Well then it’s true. You feel guilty so you want to hide it. It’s a despicable tactic, but it’s true.

From the limited point of view of the criminal justice system and legal liability, it’s a true statement and almost tautological. If you weren’t involved in a crime, then you have nothing to hide from that investigation.

The statement is offensive not because it’s false, but because it offends our commonly-held views on burden of proof and personal privacy. Many people may indeed be committing some other offense: expired license tags, illegal software, or pot. Many people may be engaging in something that is not illegal but embarrassing; taking seroquel or cialis is not against the law but may be socially damaging if revealed.