Digital Privacy and the Christian: Why ‘Nothing to Hide’ Isn’t Your Best Answer
In my work as a digital privacy educator, I have heard one argument enough to make me wonder what’s wrong with us all. Over and over, people say to me, “I have nothing to hide.” My first reaction is to take them by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. But I’m actually much more gracious than that.
Today, I do as Paul seems to have done. Rumors had gone around Corinth about him, saying “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” (2 Corinthians 10:10) I may be weighty, so please, relax for a moment and let me make the argument that, as Christians, we must be careful where we leave our digital footprints.
Abortionists Have Learned It
So I would not give the person that shaking, but I would want to impress a lesson on him, one that even leftists have learned. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many people actively seeking abortions have become concerned about being tracked online.
It’s a typical kind of “confession through projection” rhetoric: They think that the enemy (conservatives) are watching them, preparing to assault them at every turn, if word leaks out that they’ve visited an abortion clinic.
In a highly pro-abortion article, Scientific American warns how the apps and services on their phone can betray them: “In case you didn’t know, data brokers have been collecting your personal information for years, and they sell that data for a fee. … these apps can actually identify if you’re pregnant before you know it yourself. And yes, government officials in this country have actually charted people’s periods to determine if they were pregnant.”
Once again, the liberals are a step ahead of the party of truth, because they actually care about the causes they are fighting for. For us, as Christians, sometimes it’s hard to tell if we’re really on a mission from God. That needs to change!
The leftists first figured out the data collection tactics through the film, 2000 Mules. If you have not watched this film, you need to. I do not say that because I am interested in revisiting a past election. I want you to watch it to see how the researchers collected the location data for the ballot stuffers. In short, they obtained it from data harvesters, who collect the data by means of trackers included in the mobile phone apps we have become increasing addicted to using.
They can do the same with us. The way the world is heading, it may not be long until it’s illegal to live by the Bible. In fact, in many modernized, western countries, police have arrested pastors for stating truthful passages like 1 Timothy 1:10.
The Historical Concern
Even if we trust our government today, we may not trust it tomorrow. Edward Snowden got in trouble for leaking classified information. Whatever you may think of him for that, when he talks about turnkey tyranny, he’s worth listening to. America’s government changes radically every 4-8 years. With each iteration of government that is hostile to the Christian world, the laws draws closer and closer to supporting Christian persecution. It happened once before in history, though not to the Christians … rather, it happened to the Jews.
IBM began a global expansion in the 1930s, offering database services to nations for census polling. Adolf Hitler had just risen to power, and no one yet dreamed he would become the tyrant he was. He used the IBM data to keep accurate records, but he instructed IBM to create databases for religion, race, class, and even more.
By the time the world saw what he was doing, he knew exactly where to go to find the Jewish people in his country, and also where to find them in the countries he invaded. The rest is history, and I am saddened to say we have forgotten.
Technology companies control data collection methods in our society. They love to profit off that data, and that includes selling it to the government. A new law has just passed committee to limit the sale of consumer data to governments, but they’re having a hard time bringing it to the floor for a vote. So we remain stuck. Every device we carry around with us collects more data about our life than we could imagine. We give it up anyway, sometimes because apps we cannot live without force us to agree to data collection in their terms of service. Usually we check those “I Agree” boxes without knowing what we are agreeing to. Like a rat hitting a bar for a food pellet, we do it for fun or convenience. If the government cannot buy the data, they can still get by sending tech companies rubber-stamped warrant. These same companies spend a lot of money electing and lobbying politicians.
What Google collects through our phones or computers is terrifying enough. But did you know the Bible apps on our phones (particularly the two big ones) are a privacy nightmare? So are most prayer apps, according to researchers at Mozilla. Nearly every app we download from the Google Play Store or the Apple Store collects data beyond what they need to provide the service we want them for. More data means more money — for them, naturally, not for us.
And we remain clueless as to the consequences of giving up that data. Who even reads the terms of service, anyway?
The Key is Turning
Snowden’s turnkey government is here. It is not coming; it is here. Strong players in government, in the media, and even in large companies are opposed to Christianity, and would love to destroy it. They know they can’t just come out and harvest Christians yet. As laws slowly change, though, our basic, long-standing beliefs become more and more illegal.
And you can count on it: When the time is right for it, the government will go to the tech centers, they will collect the data there, and they will use it against us. If you doubt it, remember the power they hold, and their attitudes toward the faith, and ask yourself, “Why wouldn’t they? What would stop them? If they can create laws to support them in it, which they’re already doing, what principle would keep them from going all the way with it?”
When I mention privacy in conversations, the first response is always, “I have nothing to hide.” If you align with Jesus, you are an enemy of the world system. Is it not time to start behaving like we are in enemy territory?
I’m not talking about shutting down online ministries. Far from it. I’m talking about reducing exposure to manipulative, unethical data collection.
The second response I get is equally frustrating, “God is in control.” Yes. He is the Sovereign Creator of everything and all things are in His power to hold. But God’s sovereignty doesn’t give us the right to put on orange flashing lights and start jumping up and down, alerting the enemy to our presence. After all, He did say, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)
The people hiding Jewish families in Nazi Germany didn’t run through the streets declaring their guests and resting on foolish clichés like “God is in control.” No, actually in enemy-occupied territory, God has allowed the enemy to have control for a period.
The church described in the book of Acts faithfully followed Christ, but spread out to escape persecution. They ran, but they ran with the gospel. We, too, need to continue spreading the gospel until God calls us home. That is still the goal.
I’m sure this leaves you wondering. No one wants to slow the spread of the gospel. No one wants to hunker down out of sight, invisible to enemies but also useless to church and to friends. Few of us have any idea what it could actually mean to step up our online privacy, or to reduce the massive data being stored up on us. You might be scratching your head, wondering what in the world I’m talking about.
I expect that, and I ask you to hold on until I continue this in my next article. My purpose this time wasn’t so much to help you spread the gospel with digital privacy in mind. My purpose has been to bring that shoulder-shaking, so that you at least begin asking, “What can I do?” In my next article I will begin to answer that question with practical steps you can take. The things I’ve spoken of here will come clearer into focus.
Tom Murosky is the creator of Switched to Linux, a Free and Open Source Software teaching channel with over 12 million views. He also teaches on Christian living at Our Walk in Christ, and has published several books including Hezekiah’s Prayer. Tom has a B.S. in biochemistry from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate in molecular toxicology from Penn State University.