Police TV series and the lowering of privacy expectations

Clo and I are following a few TV series, some of them police-related ones like C.S.I Las Vegas. While these series provide a rather entertaining way to spend one hour, I’m increasingly having a gripe about them.

They surreptitiously instill a few dangerous equations in one’s mind. Watch closely, and you’ll notice that only culprits ask for a lawyer, for example. Innocent suspects just cooperate without the slighest need of following correct police procedures, like the right to a lawyer, the right to remain silent, or the right to refuse unlawful searches.

The ones who refuse any of these are always culprits in the end. There’s a subliminal message for you, couch potatoe: why do you refuse to cooperate if you have nothing to hide? Your lack of transparency makes you look guilty.

This isn’t limited to C.S.I., other series, like N.C.I.S, even push the concept a bit further, often evoquing the Patriot Act to remember watchers that if you don’t comply, they just have two words to say to be able to disappear you to Guantanamo: « Terrorist suspect ». Say goodbye to trials, lawyers, and any sort of human justice. You’d better not get in the way and let go of your rights if you’re innocent. As an innocent, you have nothing to hide, right?

All of these examples may seem a bit US-centric, although I’m french — I don’t watch French TV series often, mainly because they’re mostly crap. But from the little I watched, it seems the same applies to them — just translated to french and using (bypassing) our own laws.

I find this scary. I’ve read a few pages off the PDF of « Little Brother » by Cory Doctorow (and quickly decided to buy the printed edition, as it seems to be worth a read); it’s a fictional story of how USA could turn into a fully-feature surveillance country after a terrorist attack; and he has a good example of how idiotic this « if you’re not a criminal, you have nothing to hide » mentality is:

There’s something really liberating about having some corner of your life that’s yours, that no one gets to see except you. It’s a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There’s nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them. But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you’d have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you’d be buck naked?